The legal battles regarding mandatory arbitration continues to rage on this week, as the United States Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling on the subject. Unfortunately, the federal high court decision is one that places more victims of nursing home neglect in danger of losing their legal rights. The Charleston Daily Mail has the story.
The Supreme Court decision was an appeal from a state supreme court ruling which interpreted federal law to deny many long-term care facilities the ability to slip in mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print of nursing home contracts. As each Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer at our firm has explained in the past, these clauses often do extreme damage to the legal rights of these individuals and their families. The arbitration process is almost always slanted toward the interests of the nursing home. Understanding the extreme harm of these mandatory requirements, the state supreme court struck down the use of these clauses. However, via a ruling released this week by the U.S. Supreme Court, that limitation is now reversed.
The state court had reached its decision by concluding that the Federal Arbitration Act (which allows the clauses) did not apply to these cases, because the Act did not apply to personal injury suits or wrongful death suits. The highest federal court disagreed with that analysis. With the reversal, the state supreme court is now forced to reconsider the previous ban on the clauses.
The consequences of this federal action may reverberate throughout the state. That is because another state decision last year was based in large part on the earlier arbitration decision which has now been overturned. The second state decision had to do with binding arbitration clauses used by national housing companies which built unsafe homes in the state.
Our Illinois nursing home lawyers believe that these rulings are misguided and do grave injustice to nursing home abuse victims and their families. However, regardless of the legal interpretation of the federal statute which currently allows these clauses, it is important to know that there are ways to fight back. Most importantly, the law itself can be changed. That is exactly what several federal lawmakers are trying to do. Led by Minnesota Senator Al Franken, the Arbitration Fairness Act is currently making its way through Congress. The measure would change the law so that there is no ambiguity about the illegality of these forced arbitration clauses. In this way, many unsuspecting families will be spared the hardship that comes with dealing with one of these clauses after already having been hurt by mistreatment at a long-term care facility.
Everyone should do what is in their power to help advance the proposed federal legislation which would do away with these clauses once and for all. Until the measure is passed, it is incumbent upon families to ask questions before they sign nursing home contracts. In particular, be sure to get a clear answer on whether or not the contract includes an arbitration clause. If so, we recommend that the clause not be signed so as to avoid giving away legal rights.
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