Did you know that many nursing home residents who have been mistreated or neglected have been unable to hold nursing homes publicly accountable for their actions? This is because many nursing homes have buried forced arbitration clauses in fine print in their nursing home admission contracts. These clauses have deprived residents of their right to go to Court to seek justice even in cases of severe neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse or even wrongful death. As a result, many businesses, like nursing homes, are able to circumvent the courts and avoid liability. In fact, some Courts have described arbitration clauses as “Get out of Jail Free” cards. These clauses are often buried in contracts in fine print and are often confusing or misunderstood by elderly residents, who are also often distraught and stressed upon being admitted. Many times the contacts with this fine print are signed unknowingly by family members who often do not have the legal authority to bind their loved one and who do not fully grasp what they are signing.
The effects can be devastating. For example, the New York Times reported on the stories of Elizabeth Barrow, a 100-year old woman who was found murdered in her nursing home, as well as a 94-year old woman who died from a head wound that had been left to fester. In both cases, their claims were initially blocked from Court. Similarly, in July, 2015, NPR reported on the story of Dean Cole. Just two weeks after Cole’s wife arranged for him to move into a Minnesota nursing home, he was rushed to the hospital, severely dehydrated and in a coma. Cole died a short while later. His wife, Virginia, could not sue the facility because she had signed a binding agreement to pursue arbitration for any dispute. Although she won the arbitration hearing before three judges, the fees for the proceedings amounted to more than $60,000, leaving her with a final settlement amount of only $20,000.
However, a new rule released last week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, bans binding forced arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid. The rule applies to facilities that receive money from Medicare or Medicaid, which is the vast majority.
This is a huge victory and major step towards protecting the care and safety of nursing home residents. Unfortunately, these arbitration clauses taking away one’s legal rights are hidden in the fine print of many other agreements, such as employment contracts signed by employees as a condition of getting hired. In fact, as reported by Take Justice Back, a grassroots campaign launched to restore accountability, promote safety and ensure Americans have access to justice, it is estimated that as many as half a billion forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of everything from credit card agreements, bank accounts, student loans, children’s breakfast cereals, even Starbuck gift cards. Most people are not unaware of this fine print or that they are giving up a legal right. In fact, as also reported by Take Justice Back a comprehensive study released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2015 found that 79 percent of consumers whose credit card companies required arbitration didn’t know there was a forced arbitration clause in a consumer contract.
To learn more about this important issue contact Attorney Pamela A. Borgess, the founder of Borgess Law, LLC. Attorney Borgess is an experienced trial attorney who focuses on civil litigation, including nursing home abuse, defective medical drugs/devices, defective consumer products, business/contract disputes, wrongful death and injury, and car and truck accidents cases. To speak with Attorney Borgess, call Borgess Law at (567) 455-5955 or toll-free at (844) LAW-9144. You can also contact Borgess Law by submitting an online inquiry. Borgess Law never charges for initial consultations.