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Nursing home residents BEWARE. Admitting a loved one to a nursing home is an extremely stressful time for any family and is usually made all the more stressful because the loved one has likely just been discharged from a harrowing hospital admission. At the time of admission, the nursing home administration requires numerous documents to be signed including consents, admission agreements, and the like. Most nursing homes are now including among those documents something called “arbitration agreements”, often buried into the admission agreement. Generally, these agreements are optional and do not have to be signed, but the administration of most nursing homes don’t tell the residents or their families. Even if the resident or family were told, the situation is so anxiety ridden that they are not likely to challenge the issue since they don’t fully understand the ramifications.
These agreements mean that a jury of your peers will NEVER decide whether your nursing home residents rights are violated during a stay or whether you or your loved one was the victim of abuse, neglect, negligence or exploitation. Rather, a panel of attorneys who make a fair share of their living as professional jurors for nursing home cases will be the deciders. Some unscrupulous arbitrators might even be inclined to be biased against residents who they’ll never see before and might fear that an unfavorable result against the nursing home will cause the nursing home to ‘blackball” them from future service. Even if they are not unscrupulous, arbitrators who regularly earn money by being selected as arbitrators in nursing home accident cases will naturally have an agenda, even if unwittingly.
Arbitration is commonplace in consumer situations such as credit card agreements, but in those cases, the dispute is not a human life or human safety, and the money value at issue is likely a few dollars in fees or surcharges. Nursing home disputes most often arise from wrongful death or serious injuries like brain injuries, hip fractures, bed sores, malnutrition an dehydration. The value of these claims SHOULD be what a jury of your peers say it is. Nursing homes place these arbitration agreements in the documents to be signed because they know that a panel of lawyers they see and pay on and off again each month or year are likely to award far less money for neglect or abuse than a jury of real people with no agenda other than to do justice.
While experienced nursing home negligence attorneys can sometimes invalidate these agreements, courts most often uphold arbitration agreements that are signed by a person with the correct legal authority to do so. If you find yourself signing a bunch of documents at a nursing home, do your best to look for arbitration clauses in the agreements you sign and refuse to sign them if at all possible. God willing, you won’t need a lawyer or a courtroom, but if you do and you sign one of these agreements, you are unlikely to get any real measure of justice.