Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of two nursing home residents who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The case required the court to determine whether a state law was valid if it permitted a loved one of a nursing home resident to enter into binding arbitration only when they possess a power of attorney document that specifically mentions “access to the courts” as a conferred right. Ultimately, the court determined that the state law violated the Federal Arbitration Act.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of two loved ones who lived in the defendant nursing home prior to their deaths. Prior to the residents’ admission to the facility, the plaintiffs completed the necessary pre-admission paperwork for each of the residents. One clause in the document stated that “[a]ny and all claims or controversies arising out of or in any way relating to . . . the Resident’s stay at the Facility” would be resolved through binding arbitration. At the time the paperwork was completed, the plaintiffs had valid documents indicating that they possessed powers of attorney for their loved ones that permitted they “dispose of all matters” related to their loved ones.

In the next year, both residents died while in the care of the nursing home. The nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case and require the plaintiffs to submit their cases through the arbitration process, as indicated in the pre-admission contracts. The state court rejected the nursing home’s argument, finding that a person’s access to the court system is a “sacred” right, and it can only be waived by an explicit statement in the power of attorney document.

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A claim of negligent hiring is based on the idea that an employer has a duty to protect others from a risk of harm posed by employees of which the employer knows or should know. If an employer fails to exercise reasonable care to ensure that other employees and customers are not at risk of harm from its employees, the employer may be liable for negligent hiring. For example, an employer might be liable for hiring an employee with a violent criminal record and providing the employee with a firearm. Liability may also be appropriate when an employer fails to check an employee’s past employer references, which would have revealed that an employee was unfit for the position.

iPhoneIn Maryland, a negligent hiring claim requires the plaintiff to show:

  • The employer owed a duty to the injured person to use reasonable care in selecting its employees;
  • The employer’s conduct in hiring or retaining the employee was not reasonably prudent under the circumstances;
  • The employer’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused injuries to the plaintiff; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages.

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Nursing homes do not enjoy a good reputation when it comes to patient care, and for good reason. Over the past few years, it seems that there has not been a week that goes by without an incident of nursing home abuse or neglect. With the increase in reports of nursing home abuse and neglect over the past several decades, as well as the corresponding advancement of technology, the question of whether hidden cameras in nursing home facilities should be allowed has recently garnered a significant amount of attention.

Bear with CameraCameras in nursing homes are a good way to monitor the level of care that a nursing home provides to its residents. However, not surprisingly, when a family places a hidden camera in a nursing home, certain legal issues may arise. Importantly, there is no federal legislation giving families or residents the right to install hidden cameras in a nursing home facility. However, some states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, have passed state legislation giving families the right to place cameras in at least some circumstances.

In most cases, a nursing home will include a clause in the pre-admission contract restricting the resident’s right to use video or audio surveillance. And in most cases, since the resident’s room is technically the property of the nursing home facility, these clauses are upheld. However, if the family of a nursing home resident suspects that their loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect, legal action may be taken through a Maryland nursing home neglect or abuse lawsuit.

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Over the past decade, instances of resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes have greatly increased. One of the most common forms of unwelcome resident-on-resident contact is sexual abuse. When a resident suffers sexual abuse while at a nursing home facility, various legal issues may arise.

Comfort DollDetermining Who Is Responsible in Cases of Resident-on-Resident Sexual Abuse

There are two very important issues that must be determined early in a personal injury lawsuit alleging resident-on-resident sexual abuse. The first is whether the abuse was permitted to occur based on a lack of supervision at the nursing home. If so, the nursing home may be responsible under the legal theory of negligence. Generally speaking, nursing homes have a duty to care for and protect residents from certain harms, sexual abuse included. When a nursing home fails to provide a resident with adequate protection, the nursing home may be liable as a result.

The second important issue that must be resolved is whether a valid arbitration agreement has been signed by the resident or a member of the resident’s family. In many cases, nursing homes will claim that any case arising out of the care they provided to a resident must be settled through arbitration. Most often, arbitration clauses – which waive a party’s right to use the court system and require the case to be submitted to an arbitration panel – are in the nursing home pre-admission contract.

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When most people hear the term “nursing home abuse,” images of a callous, bitter nursing home employee come to mind. However, over the past several years, a new kind of nursing home abuse has been on the rise:  resident-on-resident abuse.

Wheelchair

Most nursing homes care for a large number of patients, each with different medical needs. While some residents suffer from dementia or severe physical limitations and require constant supervision and care, other residents are in better health and are able to maintain some level of independence. This creates a situation in which one resident may bully, harm, or take advantage of another resident. Indeed, recent studies show that 90% of those who commit nursing home abuse are known to the resident.

A Nursing Home’s Duty to Protect Residents

When a nursing home takes in a patient, the home assumes a duty to that resident as well as the resident’s loved ones. Of course, the nursing home is responsible to provide a certain level of care to the resident. However, a nursing home’s duty to its patients does not end there. Nursing homes must also act to affirmatively protect residents in certain situations.

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Claims against nursing homes can arise in a variety of circumstances, including abuse, neglect, and failures to properly treat patients in their care. As a result, many of the claims against nursing homes and other long-term care facilities allege the facility was negligent in some way. As in any negligence claim, in a nursing home claim alleging negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the breach caused the plaintiff’s injury, and the plaintiff sustained damages.

Hospital BedIn nursing home claims, after a plaintiff proves that a nursing home owed a duty to the resident, the next issue is whether the defendant’s conduct fell below the standard of care. This is the standard that a defendant is expected to meet under the circumstances present in the particular situation. In some cases, a nursing home resident may die at a nursing home, but the home may not be at fault. Thus, in order to establish liability, a plaintiff has to show that the facility did not properly care for the resident, and this conduct led to the resident’s injuries. A recent case shows the type of evidence necessary to succeed in a nursing home negligence lawsuit.

Jury Awards Family $450,000 After Resident Dies from Infection

A jury recently found a rehabilitation center was negligent in its care of a blind, diabetic resident,
and it awarded the man’s family $450,000 in damages. According to one news source, the man, a 79-year-old retired tractor mechanic, died in November 2014, just a month after he was admitted to the center. The evidence presented at trial showed that the man was on dialysis and developed an infection in his big toe that turned gangrenous and that led to his right leg being amputated and ultimately to his death.

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Nurses employed by private nursing homes often have very difficult jobs. Private nursing homes are for-profit businesses that are primarily motivated by the bottom line. This means that the lower that staffing costs are, the more money that nursing home management or investors can take home at the end of the day. This pressure can incentivize nursing home management to keep as few nurses on the clock as possible.

Wrinkled HandsFor a nurse who is just trying to do her job, fewer nurses on the floor means more work. Often, nurses will have to take on additional patients due to “staffing shortages.” Since nurses are human, the more stress placed upon them, the more likely that they are to make a mistake.

Of course, being busy and overstressed is not an excuse to make a mistake that can cost someone their life, but it does tend to explain why so many serious instances of neglect and serious medical errors occur in nursing home facilities across the country.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case that required the court to determine if an arbitration agreement in a pre-admission contract was binding against the deceased resident’s estate in a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit. The court determined that due to the derivative nature of wrongful death lawsuits, the deceased resident’s estate was bound by the agreement.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case was the husband of a woman who had died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the plaintiff’s wife’s admission to the nursing home, the plaintiff’s wife had executed a durable power of attorney in her husband’s favor. This allowed him to make legal decisions regarding his wife’s medical and financial decisions.

Before the plaintiff’s wife was admitted into the defendant nursing home, the plaintiff signed a pre-admission contract that contained an agreement to arbitrate any claims that may arise from the nursing home’s care of his wife. The plaintiff signed the agreement.

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It is common for anyone seeking admission into a nursing home to be presented with an arbitration agreement prior to being admitted. These arbitration clauses are often hidden in large paragraphs of small print and are easy to overlook. However, once signed, arbitration clauses often waive important rights and can have a major effect on a party’s ability to file a lawsuit against the nursing home, should anything go wrong in the future.

Binding ContractWhile a valid arbitration agreement may prevent a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect from using the court system to pursue a case against the at-fault nursing home, not all arbitration agreements are valid. In fact, a series of recent court decisions across the country has indicated courts’ willingness to declare arbitration agreements invalid when they are not signed by the appropriate party, too hidden, or entered into by an incompetent party.

A recent case out of Florida illustrates how courts may choose to invalidate an arbitration agreement when the person signing the contract is not the resident themselves.

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Late last month, one lawmaker introduced the Protecting Access to Care Act, which, among other things, would limit certain damages awards to the victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. While the Act does not mention nursing home victims specifically, the broad changes proposed by the Act would, in effect, limit the availability of non-economic damages for nursing home abuse and neglect victims. It would also limit the amount of compensation nursing home abuse and neglect victims could receive for their pain and suffering.

Capitol BuildingThe Act

According to one news source, a proponent of the Act claims that it will “throw blame out the window” and will allow for all involved parties to focus on how to prevent accidents rather than engage in post-accident litigation. The Act applies to anyone covered under Medicare, Medicaid, military health plans, and the Affordable Care Act, and caps damages against doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes in many situations. In addition, the Act would provide legal immunity to pharmaceutical companies whose products harm patients, so long as the product was FDA-approved.

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