When family members sign the paperwork for a family member to live in a nursing home or assisted living facility, they expect the staff and employees to take good care of their loved ones. Unfortunately, nursing home residents can be subjected to neglect and abuse. State and federal law provides remedies for victims through civil lawsuits. However, many nursing homes are seeking to limit victims' remedies through requiring mandatory arbitration clauses.
In 2014, Joan Maurer went to the Lighthouse assisted living facility to visit her 89-year-old father, Gerald Seeger. A week earlier, her father, a retired florist, had been laughing and was in good spirits. However, when she walked into his room this time, he was ashen and vomiting in a plastic cup, and calling out in pain. She noticed his extremely swollen stomach and immediately called 911. After being taken to the emergency room, Seeger died hours later from complications related to a hernia.
No one in the nursing home called 911, despite the man suffering in extreme pain. A physician's instructions informed facility staff that due to Seeger's hernia history, any pain or tenderness in the groin area required immediate notification of medical professionals. The staff ignored these instructions. An investigation later found multiple lapses in care.
Outraged at how her father was treated, Maurer contacted an attorney to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Lighthouse facility. However, lawyers for Lighthouse claim she lost the right to file a lawsuit when she signed the contract admitting her father to the facility. A mandatory arbitration clause appeared to require private arbitration, even in the event of nursing home negligence or wrongful death.
Maurer claimed that she did not have the opportunity to review the contract at the time she brought her father to Lighthouse. When Maurer asked for time to review the 36-page residency contract, she says she was told her family would lose the apartment if she did not sign. There was no room for negotiation, it was a take it or leave it offer.
In some cases, arbitration agreements are not enforced, even if the residents signed the contracts. If the contract is signed under duress or coercion, a judge can throw out the arbitration clauses. A judge in Kentucky recently refused to enforce arbitration clauses in three wrongful-death cases, finding the legal representatives of the residents lacked the authority to sign away someone's right to a jury trial.
Last year, a federal agency issued a rule that would bar any nursing home that receives federal funding from requiring mandatory arbitration. The rule was expected to affect almost 1.5 million nursing home residents. However, in December, a federal judge in Mississippi blocked the rule that would have made requiring arbitration agreements illegal.
“The sad reality is that today too many Americans must choose between forfeiting their legal rights and getting adequate medical care,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a proponent of barring arbitration agreements in nursing home contracts.
If you suspect a family member in a nursing home has been injured or abused due to negligence, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois nursing home negligence law. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients and their families the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.