Whenever we check ourselves or a loved one into a nursing home it is a stressful time. The fact that one has to go into a nursing home means that there are serious medical issues that need constant professional care. When you’re doing the admissions paperwork your hand will probably get tired from all the different pages you have to sign, and you’ll stop reading everything as closely. Nursing homes are counting on this.
There is a growing trend with nursing homes to include an “arbitration agreement” in with the admission paperwork. The arbitration agreement has nothing to do with how they will care for you or your loved one. It does dictate what will happen if they abuse or neglect your loved one and you wish to seek justice.
So what is an arbitration agreement? It is a contract between two parties; in this case the nursing home and the resident. They say that instead of getting a jury trial if you wish to sue the nursing home, you will get an arbitration hearing. This means each side will present their case to a panel and that panel will decide the outcome of your case. No judge. No jury. Arbitration also comes with less protection than the typical civil lawsuit process comes with. It may become harder or next to impossible to get documents from the nursing home. You may end up shooting an arrow in the dark hoping you can prove your case and get justice for yourself or your loved one.
Arbitration agreements are usually conspicuously labeled in the paperwork with something like “ARBITRATION AGREEMENT” or “THIS AGREEMENT IS SUBJECT TO MANDATORY ARBITRATION.” If you see this you need to stop and ask the nursing home, “Is it necessary for me to sign this?” Most likely it is not, and if it is not you should not sign it. If they say it is, then you should look somewhere else.
It is not the end of the world though if you do sign an arbitration agreement and wish to sue a nursing home. An experienced nursing home attorney can analyze the law in regards to the specifics facts of your case. Just because there may be an arbitration agreement in place doesn’t mean an experienced nursing home attorney still can’t seek justice for you or a loved one. When in doubt, reach out to a nursing home lawyer and see if they can help you.