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How Does Mandatory Arbitration Limit Your Ability to Sue Nursing Homes?

 Nobody wants to get involved in a lawsuit. This is partially because – obviously – nobody wants to suffer an injury that is worthy of filing a claim, and partially because the process can be stressful. Still, there is a certain level of comfort that we each have in knowing that if the worst happens, we have the American justice system available to help us right wrongs. Unfortunately, that sense of security may end up being ripped out from under people who have loved ones residing in nursing homes.

At issue is an ongoing case regarding a common practice of nursing homes – requiring that residents sign off on admissions contracts requiring that they waive their rights to pursue legal action against them in cases of nursing home injuries or abuse and instead resolve disputes and claims in arbitration proceedings.  This language is often hidden deep within the fine print of the contracts that are presented to infirm or elderly residents or their family members at a point when they are feeling most vulnerable, and even desperate, to find appropriate living arrangements or care.  It has served to benefit the nursing homes themselves, who have used it to avoid having to pay sizeable damages that juries have assessed against them when injuries resulting from nursing home abuse or neglect have taken place.

Legislators were behind the original objection to the arbitration requirements, and sought to cut off funding to any nursing homes that received government funding who required that these arbitration contracts be signed. But the nursing home industry has fought hard to knock down the rule that was introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and since then the rule has been the subject of a great deal of legal maneuvering. The agency has put a hold on enforcement of the rule as a result of an injunction that has been placed against it, and has indicated that it will hold off until that injunction is lifted by the courts.  The injunction was granted by the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi following a request submitted by the American Health Care Association, a lobbying group representing the nursing home industry.

The legal machinations go far beyond being a simple argument. For those who have elderly or infirm loved ones who are living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, the notion of being forced to agree to arbitration before being allowed entry to a care facility is a true Catch-22: they are being put in a position of either finding another facility, or giving up their rights to sue a facility, even if they have unquestionably caused real harm to their loved one.

The final chapter on this issue has not yet been written, and at Jonathan Perkins Injury Lawyers we will continue to provide our clients with compassionate legal advocacy on behalf of their loved ones who have suffered injuries as a result of nursing home negligence. If you need help, contact our office and set up a free consultation.