Articles Posted in Arbitration

The United States Constitution guarantees all citizens equal access to our court system. However, courts have repeatedly held that the right of access to the court system, like many other important rights, can be waived. In theory, by signing an arbitration agreement a person gives up their right to file any future claim in the court system and agrees to resolve the claim through binding arbitration.

Arbitration clauses are used in many situations, including employment contracts, cell phone contracts, and, of course, nursing home contracts. However, there is a serious concern that those who are asked to sign an arbitration agreement – and, in the process, give up fundamental constitutional rights – do so unknowingly. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the victim of Maryland nursing home abuse to file a claim, only to learn for the first time that they must resolve the claim through arbitration

Despite the important rights that a person gives up when agreeing to arbitration, too often, arbitration clauses consist of a few paragraphs in a much longer contract. These contracts are usually written in small print and, at first glance, would seem to be unimportant. Thus, when consumers, nursing home residents, or employees are presented with these lengthy documents, they frequently overlook the arbitration clause, or at least fail to fully comprehend the importance of the document that they have just been asked to sign.

When someone is admitted as a resident in a Maryland nursing home, they are likely presented with pre-admission paperwork containing an agreement to arbitrate. These agreements, if enforceable, require that any Maryland nursing home abuse or neglect claims arising from a resident’s relationship with the facility are resolved through arbitration rather than through the court system.

In previous posts, we have discussed the pros and cons of resolving claims through arbitration from the resident’s perspective. It is important to note that, by agreeing to arbitration, Maryland nursing home residents give up many of their rights. Most notable of the rights that are waived is that of access to the court system and to appeal an adverse judgment.

For the most part, nursing home arbitration decisions are final. However, if the arbitration was not properly conducted, one of the parties involved in the arbitration may have been deprived of a statutory or constitutional right. In these situations, an arbitration decision can be reviewed by a court. However, establishing that a decision is entitled to review can be difficult. Recently, a state appellate court refused to reconsider an arbitration award that was issued against a nursing home.

The validity and enforceability of arbitration agreements have recently become very important issues in Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases. Typically, these agreements are contained in the pre-admission paperwork that a resident or their loved one is asked to sign before the resident is admitted. Needless to say, this is a very stressful and emotional time, and prospective residents and their family members may not always have a full appreciation for the rights they give up by signing an arbitration agreement.

As a general rule, courts will enforce an arbitration agreement as long as it is valid and executed correctly. One crucial question that courts will ask when determining the validity of an arbitration agreement is whether both parties knew what they agreed to when they entered into the agreement. A recent article discusses a case in which an arbitration agreement did not bind a nursing home resident because the contract was signed by her son, who did not speak English.

Evidently, back in 2017, an 86-year-old woman was admitted to the defendant nursing home after a left-knee replacement surgery. Because of her age and frailty, the woman was identified as a high-risk patient. During her stay at the defendant nursing home, she claimed that a nurse at the facility “recklessly pushed” her wheelchair into a bathroom door, causing her to break her patella.

Maryland nursing home plaintiffs often have to wrestle with the impact of nursing home arbitration agreements. Massachusetts’s Supreme Court will soon decide whether wrongful death plaintiffs in nursing home lawsuits can be forced into arbitration. Many nursing home residents sign arbitration agreements when admitted into a nursing home, which can later limit their ability to bring claims against the nursing home. A recent lawsuit challenged the enforceability of such agreements against a resident’s heirs in bringing wrongful death claims in court.

In this case, a federal appeals court considered whether arbitration agreements can bar a resident’s heirs from later bringing wrongful death claims in the state. The resident had been admitted to a nursing home, and when she was admitted, her daughter signed an arbitration agreement for her as her representative. The agreement stated that any dispute covered by the agreement would be resolved “exclusively by an [alternative dispute resolution] process that shall include mediation and, where mediation is not successful, arbitration.” The agreement also stated that it applied to the resident and “all persons whose claim is or may be derived” through the resident, including the resident’s heirs, representative, executor, and others.

After her mother died while in the care of the defendant nursing home, the daughter later brought a wrongful death suit against the facility, claiming that it was responsible for her mother’s death. The nursing home argued that the claim had to be resolved in arbitration, pursuant to the arbitration agreement the daughter signed on her mother’s behalf. It further argued that the daughter’s claim was derivative of the resident’s claim, and that her claim was bound by the agreement. The daughter argued that she was not bound by the agreement because her claim against the nursing home as a beneficiary in a wrongful death claim is independent of her mother’s claim.

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Historically, Maryland nursing homes have been able to avoid costly lawsuits brought by residents or their family members by including arbitration clauses in the pre-admission paperwork that is presented to residents prior to their admission. By signing an arbitration clause, a nursing home resident gives up their right to a trial by jury, and agrees to resolve any dispute that may arise between the parties through binding arbitration.

While in theory arbitration may not sound like a bad thing for nursing home residents, by agreeing to arbitration, nursing home residents give up important rights and get little to nothing in return. That being the case, it is not surprising that long-term historical data shows that nursing homes fare better in arbitration than they do in traditional courts.

For the past few years, nursing home arbitration contracts have been the subject of much debate. During the Obama Administration, nursing home arbitration contracts were disfavored, and those nursing homes that included these clauses in their pre-admission paperwork were ineligible for federal funding. However, more recently that policy has been stepped back, and nursing homes have seized the opportunity, and have started to rely on arbitration clauses once again.

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Maryland nursing homes often include a clause in their pre-admission paperwork indicating that the parties agree to arbitrate any claims that may arise in the future rather than file a case through the traditional means. However, arbitration can be detrimental to nursing home residents, and residents should not assume that they will be precluded from pursuing a personal injury lawsuit based on a signed arbitration contract.

There are several ways that a Maryland arbitration agreement can be held to be invalid and unenforceable. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the concept of “mutuality of assent,” which is essentially the requirement that both parties know what they are agreeing to when a contract is signed.

The Facts of the Case

The case did not deal with a nursing home lawsuit, but it is relevant because it shows how courts interpret arbitration contracts. According to the court’s opinion, the contract at issue involved a “home service agreement,” by which the defendant would pay for and arrange to complete home maintenance on the plaintiff’s homes in exchange for the contract term price of $1050.

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One of the most controversial topics in Maryland nursing home lawsuits is the applicability and enforcement of arbitration agreements. An arbitration agreement is merely an agreement between parties to submit any disputes that may arise between the parties through arbitration, rather than through the court system.

What Is Arbitration?

Arbitration is a way to resolve claims between parties that does not involve a judge or a jury. Instead, the claim is presented to an arbitrator who hears evidence and arguments from both sides and decides the case.

Arbitration is different from traditional litigation for several reasons, including:

  • the procedural rules governing when a claim must be filed and how quickly the claim is heard are determined by the arbitrator;
  • the rules of evidence that are applied in an arbitration proceeding may be different from the rules that would apply in court;
  • for the most part, an arbitrator’s decision is final, meaning that it cannot be appealed by either party in the event of an unfavorable outcome; and
  • the decisions of an arbitrator are usually kept secret.

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Maryland nursing home residents must consider whether their ability to sue a nursing home is limited by agreements that were signed at the time of their admission to the facility. This is because Maryland nursing home admission agreements often contain arbitration clauses, which may limit a party’s ability to bring a lawsuit in court.

Arbitration is a form of out-of-court resolution where an arbitrator, rather than a judge or jury, makes a final decision in the case. Many nursing homes routinely include arbitration agreements within their admission paperwork, as a way to avoid lengthy and costly litigation. In arbitration, the procedural rules are relaxed, and an arbitration decision is generally final, and cannot be appealed. Because of these factors, arbitration favors more sophisticated parties who frequently find themselves in court.

Resident Unable to Sue After Alleged Rape in Nursing Home

According to a recent news article, an 87-year-old nun said she was raped at night at her nursing home. She claimed that someone entered her room at night, pinned her down on the bed, and raped her.

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Nursing home residents and their families often sign admission agreements when a resident enters a nursing home. These agreements frequently contain arbitration provisions, which can have a significant impact in a Maryland nursing home lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard argument on a case concerning arbitration provisions. The issue before the Court was how courts should decide whether a claim is required to be resolved through arbitration. If two parties have signed a contract that includes an arbitration provision, a later dispute may arise on whether a particular dispute falls within the arbitration provision.

Disputing the Validity of Arbitration Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements

Arbitration provisions are increasingly common in nursing home agreements. If a nursing home resident or a family member signs a contract with an arbitration provision, there may still be a way to keep the case in court. An arbitration agreement can force a matter to be resolved in arbitration, which can have present serious drawbacks for plaintiffs. For one, the arbitrator’s decision is final, meaning that a plaintiff cannot appeal an adverse ruling. However, the arbitration provision itself is not always enforceable.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a wrongful death case discussing the validity of an arbitration contract signed by the plaintiff on behalf of her elderly father. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the plaintiff’s father lacked the mental capacity to sign the contract at the time it was executed, the plaintiff could not be bound by the arbitration agreement. The case is significant because it presents the important and developing issue arbitration clause enforceability, which frequently arises in Maryland nursing home neglect and abuse lawsuits.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the daughter of a man who died from injuries allegedly sustained while in the care of the defendant rehabilitation facility. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father suffered from a history of mental health issues, including dementia. One day, the plaintiff’s father fell and was admitted to the hospital. After about ten days in the hospital, the man was discharged from the hospital and sent to the defendant rehabilitation facility.

Before being moved to the rehab facility, the plaintiff executed several documents in preparation for her father’s transfer. Included in these documents was an agreement to arbitrate any claims arising from the facility’s care of the plaintiff’s father. About two months later, the plaintiff’s father was found unresponsive at the rehab facility. He was transferred back to the hospital, where he then passed away.

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