Nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits were always a challenge, for a myriad of reasons. But increasingly, more plaintiffs are running up against a formidable test: Arbitration.
Arbitration agreements are thrust in front of patients and their families, often while they are in a state of emotional and physical turmoil – during the nursing home admission process. Buried in a stack of forms, the arbitration agreement compels the person to sign away their right to have disputes handled in a court of law. Instead, by signing their name at the bottom of the fine print, they agree instead to have such claims heard by a paid arbitrator, in private, behind closed doors. The arbitrator isn’t bound by the law. There is no jury. The arbitration process isn’t public. The arbitrator has an interest in keeping the nursing home happy, therefore preserving the lucrative contracts that keep them employed. These agreements are not in the best interests of residents and their loved ones.
As a recent article by ThinkProgress.org recently explained, these arbitration agreements are increasingly becoming the status quo. The good news is that advocates and elected officials are starting to take notice. However, as of right now, the process is still largely going unchecked, leaving many abused, mistreated and neglected nursing home residents fighting an uphill battle for justice.
ThinkProgress detailed the story of a woman from Central Pennsylvania who was admitted to a nursing home at age 91, relatively healthy, after suffering a fractured hip in a gardening fall. She was only supposed to stay at the nursing home for a few weeks while she went through rehabilitation. Her doctor guessed she’d be out in less than two weeks. Instead, she was there three months when her sons finally took her out, and she was in far worse shape than when she went in.
She suffered a number of serious falls (resulting in two spinal fractures), a sizable, infected pressure ulcer on her heel that rendered her unable to walk, incontinence from not having proper assistance to get to the bathroom in time, dramatic weigh loss from not being given her dentures and a receding gum line from a lack of proper dental hygiene. As her son explained it, she was a “changed” person. Once proud and charming, she became despondent and depressed.
Her sons demanded her car change. But instead of doing just that, her sons say, they altered records to hide these instances of alleged nursing home neglect. Her sons brought her home to receive in-home nursing care. Although she did improve, she never truly got better. She died within 12 months.
Then, her sons filed a lawsuit, seeking accountability for their mother’s pain and suffering. However, that case was quickly funneled into the arbitration system. But arbitration meant no transparency, her sons say. There would be no public court record. No threat to the company’s image. The company refused to turn over medical records or documents related to her care – something that would be required in a typical court proceeding.
After a brief hearing, the sons were promised a decision within the month. A year later, they have yet to hear anything. They call weekly for an update. But there is no legal deadline for the arbitrator to reach a decision.
It’s easy to understand why civil rights advocates see this as a clear case of taking advantage of those who are the most vulnerable.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Families Fight To Bring Nursing Home Lawsuits Out From Behind Closed Doors, Aug. 30, 2016, By Alex Zielinski, ThinkProgress.org
More Blog Entries:
Olson v. Florida Living Options – Assisted Living Arbitration Agreement Can’t Protect Linked Nursing Home, Sept. 15, 2016, Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer Blog