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What Is a Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement?

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Thirty percent more individuals aged 65-74 died early from 2019 to 2021 in South Carolina, and since 2021, the state’s nursing homes have experienced $5 million in fines from state inspectors. When you combine this with the incredible fall rate (257,682 in 2020) and deaths (614 in 2021), nursing homes become dangerous places. At The Louthian Law Firm, our attorneys can help you navigate nursing home arbitration agreements in the case of an injury or death.

What Is Arbitration?

If you sign an arbitration agreement, you present your case to an arbitrator. An arbitrator will professionally negotiate a resolution or settlement. You must sign the negotiated agreement before the arbitrator files the paperwork with the court, making it legally binding. Although the process may be less expensive because you don’t need legal representation, the arbitrator may be biased toward the nursing home.

What Are Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements?

When you or a loved one moves into a nursing home, you likely must sign a lot of paperwork. Buried in this paperwork may be an agreement that requires you to go through arbitration if anything happens to the resident. These agreements prevent you from pursuing a lawsuit.

What Do the Arbitration Clauses in Nursing Home Contracts Mean?

Because you cannot take your case before a judge and jury, these agreements prevent you from proving and gaining justice for wrongdoing by the nursing home or its staff, such as negligence. These agreements also hide any wrongdoing or poor care from the public and remove the provider’s responsibility of providing quality care. They can allow providers to deceive, abuse, neglect or injure residents without facing consequences.

In long-term care nursing home arbitration agreements, you lose your dispute rights. In this way, arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts take advantage of the residents, particularly those with health issues or requiring long-term care.

Are the Clauses Always Binding?

In general, arbitration clauses are binding. However, you can rescind them within 30 days of signing the contract. In addition, the nursing home cannot force you into arbitration if you or a loved one in charge of making decisions for you did not sign a nursing home arbitration agreement.

If you lack the mental capacity to make these decisions, whether you signed the agreement or not, you do not have to go through arbitration after an injury. In addition, if your loved one signed your paperwork without proper legal authority, the agreement is not legally binding.

What Should You Look For in an Arbitration Agreement?

Look for key clauses in your admissions paperwork, such as stating that you must sign the nursing home arbitration agreement to receive better care. Also, beware of those that limit how much you can receive as damages if you become injured. Ensure the facility did not attach an arbitration agreement to your admissions paperwork.  

Fortunately, you do not have to sign nursing home arbitration agreements. If the clause is part of the admission contract, you can cross it out and initial and date it, showing that you disagree. In many cases, the arbitration agreement is a separate document. Do not sign the document, especially if you have questions or concerns. You cannot lose your place in the nursing home if you do not sign these agreements.  

Arbitration Agreements in Nursing Home Abuse Cases

South Carolina judges carefully review nursing home arbitration agreement cases to determine the agreements’ validity and terms. In these three cases, the plaintiffs did not have to undergo nursing home arbitration and pursued legal action through the court instead.

The estate of Mary Solesbee, by her personal representative, Connie Bayne, respondent v. Fundamental Clinical and Operation Services, LLC

In this case, Mary Solesbee’s son, Allen Dover, signed an admission and arbitration agreement with a nursing home in Spartanburg County. However, the nursing home did not learn whether Dover had the legal authority to sign the admission agreement for Solesbee.

When Solesbee died two weeks later as a result of an injury, her representative, Bayne, filed a wrongful death claim, and Magnolia filed a motion to dismiss the complaint as a result of the arbitration agreement. The court dismissed the motion for the following reasons:

  • The son did not have legal or implied authority to sign the agreement.
  • Agency was not established between Solesbee and Dover, so no estoppel was present.

The plaintiff was then able to pursue legal action through the courts.

Thompson v. Pruitt Corp

Another case when the court voided nursing home arbitration agreements is Thompson v. Pruitt Corp. Similar to the previous case, two children signed a contract with a nursing home for their mother, who lacked the mental capacity to make decisions for herself. After the mother died as a result of faulty bed rails, the daughter sued, but the Pruitt Corp, which owned the facility, filed for dismissal, which the court denied for the following reasons:

  • Nursing home admission did not require the arbitration agreement.
  • The arbitration agreement was not a healthcare issue, so the son lacked the legal authority to sign it.
  • The mother did not give her consent to the agreement due to her dementia.
  • A healthcare power of attorney does not allow the representative to sign an arbitration agreement.

These findings allowed Thompson to pursue a jury trial. 

Darlene Dean, as personal representative of the estate of Louise Porter, Respondent v. Heritage Healthcare of Ridgeway, LLC

In this case, Darlene Dean signed admissions paperwork for her mother, Louise Porter, including an arbitration agreement, to enter the Tanglewood nursing facility. After her third fall in 10 days, Porter broke her hip and died due to complications from her two hip surgeries. When Dean sued Tanglewood, the nursing home sought to enforce the arbitration agreement. However, part of the agreement required arbitration through a service that no longer handled proceedings without a post-injury agreement.

This violated part of the terms of the arbitration agreement, so the court agreed with Dean and allowed the case to proceed in court.  

Contact a Columbia Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

If you or a loved one signed nursing home arbitration agreements and received an injury or died as a result of negligence, contact one of our attorneys at The Lothian Law Firm for a case review.

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