Arbitration is a process in which the parties agree to have a private arbitrator decide the case instead of having the case decided by a court. Although arbitration has some advantages, it can put Maryland nursing home residents at a great disadvantage in many instances. For residents that agree to arbitration as part of their admission paperwork, arbitration agreements can be difficult to get out of—in part because the Maryland Uniform Arbitration Act provides that arbitration agreements are favored.
But there are successful challenges to arbitration. For one, the parties must consent to the arbitration. Consent to arbitration in the nursing home context generally occurs by signing an arbitration agreement as part of an agreement to be admitted to the facility. Because both parties must consent, in some cases, an arbitration agreement is not valid or enforceable because the resident (against whom the agreement is often enforced) did not sign the agreement. For example, a family member may have signed the agreement who did not have the authority to sign on the resident’s behalf.
Agreements may also be unenforceable because they are unconscionable. The language may be unclear or hidden, and unreasonably favorable to one party, leaving the other party with no choice but to accept. Under these circumstances, an agreement may also be unenforceable.