Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Mississippi issued an interesting opinion for anyone who signed an arbitration clause when admitting their loved one to a nursing home. In the case, Tarvin v. CLC of Jackson, the court determined that the arbitration clause signed by the plaintiff on behalf of her elderly father was not binding because she did not have the legal right to waive her father’s rights, absent a determination of his incompetency.

Signing DocumentArbitration Clauses in Nursing Home Contracts

Whenever a party enters into a contract, they try to include as many favorable terms as possible. However, sometimes nursing homes can overreach, including arbitration clauses that may act to prevent the resident from using the court system to adjudicate any disputes between the parties. Indeed, if an arbitration clause is valid, the parties are required to go to arbitration instead of filing a lawsuit. This can have negative effects on plaintiffs, since usually the nursing home selects which arbitrator to use, giving rise to potential favoritism.

Arbitration clauses, however, are not always valid. In fact, in Tarvin, the court held that the arbitration clause at issue could not be enforced. The court explained that a nursing home resident’s right to use the court system is an important one, and it cannot be waived by just anyone. The court explained that it is only when a resident is deemed incompetent that a loved one can validly sign a binding arbitration agreement. In the Tarvin case, the doctor who determined the plaintiff’s father was incompetent was not his primary care provider. Thus, the court held that there was insufficient evidence proving the elderly man’s incompetence, and he did not validly consent to arbitration through his daughter.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the loved one of a nursing home resident whom the plaintiff claims was neglected prior to her death. In the case, Handy v. Madison County Nursing Home, the plaintiff’s claims were ultimately dismissed by the court during a summary judgment proceeding because the plaintiff failed to meet her initial burden to show that a prima facie case existed against the nursing home.

Signing DocumentsThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home that had cared for her mother in the three years leading up to her death. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that nursing home staff members were negligent in failing to detect a bowel obstruction that ultimately contributed to her mother’s early death. As a part of her case, the plaintiff attached a certification explaining that, if called to testify, her expert witness would explain that the defendant nursing home violated a standard of care it owed to her mother.

In a pre-trial summary judgment proceeding, the nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case based on the fact that the plaintiff failed to produce evidence of the home’s negligence. Specifically, the nursing home argued that the certification was not sufficient to prove negligence and that an expert’s affidavit was necessary. The plaintiff sought several continuances and failed to provide an expert’s affidavit at each scheduled listing. Eventually, the nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence.

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While nursing homes are charged with the duty to care for each of their many residents, the reality is that not all nursing homes take that duty to heart. In fact, almost all nursing homes are for-profit enterprises that, at the end of the day, must account for the costs of labor, supplies, and other expenses. Such an influence may incentivize nursing home management to cut corners in relation to the quality of care they provide the residents in their care.

WalkersThis may be nowhere more true than in the case of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, who for one reason or another suffer from nursing home abuse and neglect at higher rates than non-intellectually disabled residents. Indeed, according to one news article reporting on the plight of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, several states are currently facing lawsuits based on the inadequate services provided to these individuals.

Evidently, a federal judge in San Antonio, Texas recently granted class-action status to a group of nearly 4,000 intellectually disabled nursing home residents across the state. The allegations in that case are that the State of Texas has done little if anything to secure a safe place for these individuals, often placing them in homes that are patently unequipped to handle the residents’ needs.

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Earlier this month, an Oklahoma court issued an opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of a woman who died in a nursing home while in the defendants’ control. The case, Maree v. Neuwirth, involved the plaintiffs’ decision to add additional defendants to the lawsuit after they discovered that these parties may have had a key role in the decision-making leading up to their loved one’s death. The court hearing the case held that it was improper for the lower court to deny the plaintiffs the ability to add these defendants.

HourglassThe Facts of the Case

Back in January 2011, the elderly loved one of the plaintiffs fell while a resident at the defendant nursing home. Two days later, she died in the hospital. It was alleged that the elderly woman’s injuries were worsened because nursing home staff failed to respond to a “call light” in a timely manner.

The woman’s loved ones filed a lawsuit against the nursing home about two years after the alleged act of negligence. Initially, the lawsuit was filed against most of the nursing home’s management, as well as against the nursing home itself.

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It used to be that when the term “nursing home abuse” was mentioned, the mostly likely culprit engaging in the abuse was a staff member of the nursing home. However, according to a recent news report, that may be changing. Evidently, the Annals of Internal Medicine recently commissioned a study of 10 New York nursing homes to see the rates at which residents are engaging in abusive behaviors among themselves. The results were shocking.

Old MenAccording to the study, about 20% of all nursing home residents reported that they suffered some kind of abuse caused by another resident. Most of the abuse was verbal, consisting of threats, swearing, or belittling, but there was a significant amount of physical and sexual abuse that was found. In fact, according to the report, 5% of nursing home residents reported suffering physical abuse, and 0.6% reported being sexually abused by another resident.

The study notes that the lesser forms of abuse are precursors to the more serious types of abuse, and it is imperative that nursing home staff intervene before the pattern of abuse between two given patients escalates. The study also found that residents suffering from dementia or those who were placed in a facility with a high patient-to-staff ratio were more likely to be victimized by another resident.

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Nursing homes are a necessity in today’s busy society. With so many dual-income households, and the advancement of complex medical technology, it becomes difficult if not impossible to care for aging loved ones as they require more and more assistance. When aging loved ones reach a point in their lives at which they need constant care, a nursing home is one of the few options available.

Hospital DoorGenerally speaking, nursing homes are not known for the quality of care they provide the elderly. With daily reports of abuse and neglect, it is difficult to find a satisfactory home in which to place a loved one. However, ultimately a home must be selected.

When an elderly loved one is placed into a nursing home, it may be tempting to think that any deterioration of their condition is due to their new surroundings. After all, they are no longer in the comfort of their own home, and they may not be operating on their own schedule any longer. To be sure, this may cause some discomfort at first. However, assuming that a rapid deterioration in a loved one’s health is due to their new environment is a mistake that may cost an elderly loved one dearly, since often a rapid deterioration in health is a sign of nursing home neglect.

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Earlier this month, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a written opinion illustrating how a party’s failure to be upfront with its intention to compel mediation may prevent that party from later compelling mediation. In the case, Johnson v. Heritage Healthcare of Estill, the court determined that the defendant nursing facility waived its right to seek arbitration after the nursing facility failed to demand arbitration when the plaintiff initially filed the lawsuit.

Hospital RoomThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s mother passed away while in the care of the defendant nursing home. After her mother’s death, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death case against the nursing home, alleging that the negligent care it provided to her mother led to her death. Prior to admitting her mother to the home, the plaintiff had been granted a Power of Attorney and had signed an arbitration agreement, consenting to submit any claims to an arbitration panel rather than pursuing them through the court system.

Once the defendant nursing home got notice of the claim, it answered the complaint, asserting several defenses. One of the defenses cited was that the plaintiff had agreed to seek arbitration, rather than use the court system, in the contract signed prior to her mother’s admission. The nursing home also sought a discovery order from the court, ordering the plaintiff to disclose certain documents. Importantly, while the nursing home cited arbitration as a defense, it never actually demanded arbitration or initiated arbitration proceedings. It was not until eight months later that the nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration.

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Earlier this month, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case requiring the court to decide whether a person’s mental incompetence can toll a statute of limitations. In other words, the question was whether a person’s inability to understand that they may have a viable case can actually excuse that person from filing a timely lawsuit. The court ultimately held that in some situations, including the one in front of it, a person’s incompetence may toll the statute of limitations.

HourglassThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the estate of a man who passed away while in the defendant nursing home’s care. According to the court’s opinion, the man resided at the defendant nursing home for 10 years. However, during the last several years, according to the man’s estate, the facility treated him poorly, ultimately leading to his early death.

The man’s estate filed the lawsuit approximately two years after the man died. At pre-trial hearings, the defendant attempted to limit the evidence that the plaintiff was permitted to submit to the court, arguing that some of the evidence was from before the allowable time period, according to the statute. The statute was a two-year statute.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a groundbreaking opinion extending potential liability in a nursing home abuse lawsuit to nurses who were required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but failed to do so. In the case, Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home, the court determined that the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act (AVAA), a state-enacted law to protect the elderly, creates a separate cause of action against those who are required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but fail to do so.

Lonely Old WomanThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in this case are the surviving loved ones of an elderly woman who was given a lethal dose of the pain-killer drug morphine. The drug was not prescribed by a physician but was administered by a nurse who was not a party to this lawsuit.

The defendants were two nurses who were not employed by the facility charged with caring for the deceased, and they were in no way responsible for her care. Both defendants were caring for another individual at the facility when they witnessed what appeared to be lapses in care. On March 28 or 29, one of the defendants witnessed the deceased lying on the floor. The defendant confronted the other nurse, who told the defendant that the patient “falls a lot” and that it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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Nursing homes should be places where people can feel at ease placing their aging parents to help them get the medical care and attention that they need in their final years. However, the reality of what nursing homes have come to become in our society is far from that. Partly since nursing homes operate on a for-profit model, the level of care provided to patients is secondary or tertiary to other concerns, including staffing costs.

Old HandsJust as in any other business scenario, nursing homes get what they pay for when they consider whom they should hire. By hiring inexperienced nurses or those with poor records or care, nursing homes may be able to save a few dollars in the short-term but place their patients at risk. Indeed, these are the very nurses who are likely to act in abusive or neglectful ways when placed under stress.

However, working in a stressful environment is no excuse to neglect or abuse another human being who has been placed in your care. For these reasons, the State of Maryland allows nursing home residents or their families to bring lawsuits against nursing home employees and management in situations in which the nursing home failed to adequately care for their loved one.

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