May 1, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Overrule Illinois Nursing Home Arbitration Case

by Levin & Perconti

Most legal issues related to nursing home abuse and neglect are state cases. In general, injury matters are rooted in basic negligence that is heard in state court, unless there are unique issues involved or parties from different states. One of those unique issues which has actually led to federal court decisions in recent years relates to arbitration.

We have frequently discussed how binding arbitration agreements are often snuck into nursing home admission forms. These agreements may require a family to use a separate arbitration process to resolve disputes--including those for neglect and abuse--instead of filing a lawsuit and being heard in the traditional manner. The procedural rules are different in arbitration, and it is a process that is generally far more favorable for the nursing home company--that is why they like it.

Over the years, there have been various legal cases challenging the validity of these mandatory arbitration agreements. Those cases have made various arguments as to why specific agreements are invalid as well as why all such agreements should not hold. Some of those suits were made in state courts, while a few have been heard by federal judges.

Sometimes cases are first heard through the state system and then appealed to the federal Supreme Court. That is what happened in one high-profile Illinois nursing home abuse case involving an arbitration agreement. McKnight’s Long-Term Care News recently reported on the developments in that case.

Illinois Arbitration Agreements
In the case, a daughter sought to hold the nursing home where her mother lived accountable for neglect which she claimed led to her mother’s death. After filing the suit, the nursing home sought to enforce an arbitration agreement. The agreement was signed by the daughter (as her mother’s representative) during the admission process. Eventually, the daughter’s attorneys countered that the daughter herself was not bound by the agreement, because she did not sign for herself--only her mother. Therefore, the daughter was able to bring a traditional lawsuit regardless of the arbitration agreement, because she was bringing the suit in her own name.

That legal issue was argued up to the Illinois Supreme Court. Our high court agreed that the daughter was not bound by the agreement, and the suit could proceed. Not giving up, the defendants in the case appealed the state court case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This option is not always available--some federal issue must usually be at issue in the case.

In this matter, the defendants claimed that a federal law--the Federal Arbitration Act--expressly forbade state rules, like those here in Illinois, from disallowing arbitration agreements in this way. Essentially, in this case the agreement did not apply because Illinois finds that wrongful death claims are separate legal actions than related claims connected to the same abuse. Because they are a different cause of action, they are not bound by limits which might be imposed on the individual physically harmed in their own suit. Other states have different rules.

As McKnight’s reported recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case. That ends the options from the defendant’s, leaving the Illinois Supreme Court ruling in place.

This is a positive steps for Illinois residents and others who may be affected by nursing home neglect.

See Other Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Bed Rail Safety Petition to CPSC

The Many Faces of Illinois Nursing Home Abuse