Each Chicago nursing home neglect attorney at our firm continues to warn local residents about the need to understand the agreements that they sign when admitting a loved one into a nursing home. Of course, the main issue is “binding arbitration agreements.” Essentially, when signed onto by residents during the admissions process, these clauses sometimes limit the family’s ability to recover fairly following nursing home abuse or neglect.
Of course, the problem is that we rarely expect the worst when first moving a loved one into one of these homes. After all, if you thought that the residents of a facility might be neglected you’d never move them into the home in the first place. On top of that, many decisions about nursing home care are made with serious time limitations and in the midst of much stress–usually following a severe medical event. All of this means that community members rarely read the fine print of admissions documents and often sign arbitration agreements without even knowing it.
For that reason it often is up to courts to determine whether or not these agreements are actually enforced in the event that neglect occurs. That is the issue recently at hand in a case in Pennsylvania discussed in a recent Legal Examiner article.
The family in that case filed a nursing home neglect lawsuit against the facility. In response the home filed a motion to dismiss the case “due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” To hear any case–and rule on it–a court must have proper jurisdiction. The defendants claimed that the court did not have that jurisdiction in this case because of an arbitration agreement that the plaintiff signed. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff could not pursue the traditional lawsuit, because the terms of the arbitration agreement needed to be upheld.
Fortunately, the court in the case refused to enforce the arbitration agreement. These ruling hinges on contract law–because the agreement is a contract. While courts generally enforce properly entered into contracts, there are a range of circumstances when they do not. In this case the court found that because the case was filed by the resident’s surviving son–who himself did not sign the arbitration agreement–they cannot be deemed to have waived their right to a jury trial via the arbitration agreement.
This particular case had a bit more nuance, because it involved various actions–one for wrongful death the other a survival action–which were consolidated into one case. However, the basic principle was clear that the court would not enforce the agreement and the plaintiffs were free to pursue their case.
While the outcome in that case was satisfactory, our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers know that many others have been denied their right to the justice system as a result of these agreements. We continue to urge all residents to be cautious when dealing with these nursing home documents. Also, it is helpful to offer support for various pieces of legislation (including the Arbitration Fairness Act) which seeks to provide systematic relief to those imposes these clauses on unsuspecting consumers.
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