When a person is admitted to a nursing home, the resident and his or his family are often going through a stressful time. While dealing with the big life changes that go along with a move into a nursing home, the patient must sign admissions paperwork. If the patient isn't able to act on his own, an agent named as a power of attorney or a guardian appointed by the court must sign this paperwork. Often, the admissions contracts are long and contain lots of legal fine print. Many people who sign the contracts don't necessarily understand all of the details in the contract.
Unfortunately, many nursing homes have taken advantage of this to insert arbitration clauses into nursing home admissions paperwork. Arbitration clauses bar residents or their families from filing civil lawsuits for personal injury or wrongful death in the event that a resident is harmed by the abuse or neglect of the nursing home. Instead of suing, residents claims must be resolved through arbitration. Arbitration can be secretive, it can require victims to cover partial costs of arbitrator fees, and it often doesn't result in verdicts that are as favorable to victims.
Because many individuals affected by nursing home abuse want their day in court, arbitration clauses are being challenged in multiple cases, some of which have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court could make a big impact on the rights of future nursing home residents.
The case that is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is actually three consolidated cases in which nursing home residents died and arbitration clauses prevented wrongful death claims. The case is called Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark. In each of these cases, the arbitration clause was signed by an agent who had power of attorney, rather than being signed by the resident himself or herself.
The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the arbitration agreements could not be biding. The arbitration clauses wouldn't be legally enforced because the power of attorney did not specifically give the agent permission to waive the rights of the nursing home resident to a civil trial. Since it is very common for nursing home admissions paperwork to be signed by an agent due to the fact a lot of residents cannot act on their own behalf, this case could have a major impact on the rights of nursing home residents to take legal action even if their agent's signed arbitration clauses.
It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court will uphold the decision for the plaintiff that was made by the Kentucky Supreme Court or whether the Supreme Court will reach a different conclusion that is more favorable to the nursing home by allowing them to ensure more cases are arbitrated rather than litigated.