Justia Lawyer Rating
Maryland Association for Justice
American Association for Justice
Top One
Super Lawyers
Top 100 Trial Lawyers

For decades, arbitration has been the favored way for Maryland nursing homes to resolves dispute made by residents and residents’ families. In part, this is because arbitration is confidential, meaning that the facility does not need to worry about the news of a resident’s injuries or suffering getting out. However, there is also evidence suggesting that nursing homes get better results in cases that go to arbitration. Arbitration is also less expensive, which primarily benefits nursing homes, as they are the party who is frequently engaged in litigation.

While arbitration is rarely, if ever, in the best interest of a nursing home resident, many residents end up signing agreements to arbitrate their claim. Often, prospective residents are presented with these agreements in highly stressful times when they may feel as though they have limited options. Other times, residents sign arbitration agreements because they do not fully understand the rights they are giving up by signing, and feel pressured to sign. Consequently, many residents who suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of their caregivers are devastated to learn that they cannot file a lawsuit in court, and must proceed through the arbitration process.

In 2017, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid, under the Obama administration, implemented a ban on arbitration agreements in pre-admission paperwork for all nursing homes that accepted Medicare or Medicaid. However, under a new rule scheduled to go into effect on September 16, 2019, nursing homes will once again be able to include arbitration contracts in their pre-admission paperwork.

Most nursing home admission paperwork contains an arbitration clause. By signing an arbitration clause, a nursing home resident agrees to resolve any claims that may arise between the resident and the nursing home through arbitration, rather than through the court system. It is widely understood that arbitration offers great benefits to nursing homes, often to the detriment of nursing home residents and their family members. Thus, plaintiffs in Maryland nursing home lawsuits often seek to void arbitration clauses so they can pursue a claim in court.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a nursing home negligence lawsuit requiring the court to determine if an arbitration clause required the plaintiff to resolve his wrongful death claim through arbitration. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father passed away while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim in court against the parent company of the nursing home.

Evidently, the plaintiff’s father signed an arbitration clause upon his admission to the facility. The clause was signed by the plaintiff’s father and a nursing home representative. The document contained a “delegation clause” stating that the agreement included “all affiliates, parents, officers, owners, members, agents, successors and assigns” of the nursing home. The nursing home claimed that the agreement required the plaintiff to resolve his claim through arbitration.

The federal government is keenly aware of the fact that many Maryland nursing homes, as well as nursing homes across the country, routinely provide residents with an insufficient level of care. For this reason, each year, the federal government releases a report detailing the state of the country’s nursing homes. This June, Senators Casey (D-PA) and Toomey (R-PA) released a report entitled “Families’ and Residents’ Right to Know: Uncovering Poor Care in America’s Nursing Homes.”

The report begins by noting that aging citizens who live in nursing homes too often experience “outright neglect,” and that some residents are subjected to physical or sexual abuse. In an attempt to reduce the number of homes exposing residents to this neglect and abuse, the federal government implemented the Special Focus Facility (SFF) program. The SFF program seeks to identify the most problematic nursing homes across the country and increase supervision over these facilities. Once a facility is in the SFF program, it must be inspected no less than once every six months. Non-participants must be inspected once every 15 months.

The selection process for the SFF program focuses on those nursing homes that “persistently underperform in required inspections.” Under the SFF program, up to 88 nursing homes are selected, which amounts to less than .6 percent of all skilled care facilities in the United States. These facilities are referred to as “participants,” and the government releases the name of the facility to the public to assist potential residents in making important care decisions.

In some Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases, the determination as to whether a plaintiff’s claim is heard by an arbitrator or by a court can mean the difference between success and defeat. Most legal experts agree that nursing home arbitration contracts only benefit the nursing home. Thus, one of the most common preliminary matters in nursing home lawsuits is determining whether there is a binding arbitration clause.

As a general rule, arbitration clauses are binding on all parties if they are valid and properly executed. However, numerous issues can preclude the enforcement of an arbitration clause. One question that courts have recently been wrestling with is when a resident’s loved one (rather than the resident) signs the arbitration agreement. Recently a state appellate court decided that it would not review an appeal from a nursing home resident whose husband signed the agreement on her behalf.

According to the lower court’s opinion, the plaintiff was admitted to the defendant nursing home. At the time of admission, the plaintiff was accompanied by her husband, who signed the pre-admission paperwork on the plaintiff’s behalf. Among the documents the plaintiff’s husband signed was an agreement to arbitrate any claims arising from the plaintiff’s residence at the facility.

Arbitration clauses are very popular in the nursing home industry. Arbitration is a way to resolve a legal dispute without using the court system. Generally, arbitration is quicker and less expensive than a traditional lawsuit. At first glance, this may seem like a good alternative for many Maryland nursing home residents who want to bring a case against a negligent or abusive nursing home employee. However, arbitration typically favors the nursing home and should be avoided whenever possible.

Often, the paperwork presented to a prospective resident or the loved one in charge of their care contains an arbitration clause. These clauses essentially waive a resident’s right to pursue a case against the nursing home in court for any claim brought against the nursing home. However, nursing home residents are not provided anything waiving this right, and should carefully consider whether it is a right they want to waive.

Arbitration involves an independent arbitrator who hears the claim and renders a decision. The arbitrator that will hear the case is determined by the nursing home, and is typically included in the arbitration clause. Arbitration hearings often have strict time frames and relaxed rules of evidence, allowing savvy nursing homes who are familiar with the process and its rules to effectively defend against cases brought by residents. In a way, this gives nursing homes the “home-field advantage.”

In general, the damages that are available to a Maryland personal injury plaintiff are designed to put the plaintiff back in the same position they were in before the defendant’s negligent actions impacted their life. Thus, most damages are referred to as “compensatory” damages, because they compensate a plaintiff for the injuries they suffered as a result of the defendant’s conduct. However, in some cases, punitive damages may also be appropriate.

Punitive damages differ from compensatory damages because the focus of a punitive damages award is not on the plaintiff, but on the defendant. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for especially egregious behavior, and to deter future parties from engaging in similar behavior. For this reason, obtaining punitive damages requires proving additional facts. In Maryland, punitive damages cannot be obtained unless the plaintiff can show that the defendant acted with “actual malice.” A recent case illustrates how it can be difficult to obtain punitive damages.

In this case, the plaintiff was the estate of an older woman who passed away while living at the defendant nursing home. After the woman’s death, her estate (the plaintiff) filed a wrongful death claim against the nursing home, claiming that its negligence was the cause of woman’s death. Among other claims, the estate sought punitive damages based on staff members’ failure to care for the woman. The trial court preliminarily approved the claim for punitive damages, and the defendant immediately appealed.

When someone is admitted to a Maryland nursing home or care facility, it is typically because they cannot perform the necessary daily tasks to lead a normal life. In many – but not all – cases, younger residents suffer from severe intellectual disabilities that render them incapable of providing consent for sexual intercourse. However, there have recently been reports of pregnancy among nursing home residents.

Last December, a nurse at an Arizona nursing home called the police in a panic when a resident unexpectedly gave birth. Apparently, this was the first time anyone at the nursing home knew that the woman, who was non-verbal due to a near-drowning accident, was pregnant. As it turns out, the pregnancy was the result of the resident being raped while at the nursing home.

One of the many questions this tragic situation raises is, how could the nursing home fail to notice that the resident was pregnant? The woman’s family wonders the same thing, and has filed a claim against the State of Arizona based on the state’s failure to provide sufficient oversight.

Nursing homes have long had a reputation for providing less-than-stellar care to residents. Indeed, every day there are new allegations of Maryland nursing home abuse or neglect. However, according to a recent government study, the total number of instances of nursing home abuse and neglect is actually under-reported.

CNN recently discussed a newly released report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, concluding that one in five emergency room visits by nursing home patients is the result of abuse. The study analyzed over 37,000 emergency room admissions that were reported to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). Also startling is the fact that “nursing homes frequently failed to report incidents of abuse to either CMS or local law enforcement, as required by federal regulators.”

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services told reporters that he fears instances of nursing home abuse are under-reported and that CMS can do a better job preventing abuse and neglect by using available data to target facilities with recurring reports of misconduct.

Over the past few months, we have frequently covered cases and news stories discussing the issue of mandatory arbitration clauses that are contained in Maryland nursing home contracts. In Maryland and around the country, arbitration clauses continue to be one of the most contentious issues in many cases that are filed against nursing homes based on either the neglect or abuse of a resident. If enforceable, an arbitration clause can prevent a nursing home resident or their loved ones from pursuing a claim against the facility in court.

In a recent case issued by a state appellate court, a nursing home arbitration agreement was held not to be applicable against a resident’s son, although the resident’s son was the person who signed the form. According to the court’s opinion, the resident was admitted to the defendant nursing home in 2015. At the time, he was suffering from sepsis and chronic renal failure. The man’s son (the plaintiff) accompanied him to the nursing home and facilitated his admission.

The day after his father was admitted into the nursing home, the plaintiff was presented with a stack of documents to sign. Among these documents was one that, by signing, the plaintiff purported to consent to arbitration if the mediation process was not successful in resolving the case. All documents were signed.

One form of Maryland nursing home abuse that has recently begun to get a significant amount of attention is resident-on-resident abuse. The physical and mental conditions of residents at the time they are admitted into a nursing home vary. Because of this, some residents are better able to care for themselves, and they may seem to need less attention or supervision. Of course, there are also many residents who are incapable of self-care and require the near-constant assistance of nursing home staff members.

It is in this environment that resident-on-resident abuse is common. In fact, some experts estimate that one in five nursing home residents are victims of resident-on-resident abuse. This figure may be an underestimate because many victims of nursing home abuse are unable to report what they have endured, or choose not to report their abuse due to embarrassment or out of fear of not being believed.

Nursing homes have a duty to provide for the safety of residents, including protecting them from a threat of harm from another resident. When resident-on-resident abuse is reported, it must be taken seriously by nursing home administration. The alleged offender should immediately be separated from other residents, and the nursing home should contact the police. However, too often, nursing home staff members attempt to handle these matters internally, perhaps because they are skeptical of the accusations or they do not want the allegations to be made public. In such instances, it is not uncommon for the offending resident to continue to engage in abusive behavior. Depending on the situation, nursing homes may be liable for a resident’s injuries, even if the facility reports the abuse promptly.

Contact Information