In September of 2009, Elizabeth Barrow was found dead in her bed at Brandon Woods Nursing Home. Just a month after celebrating her 100th birthday, Barrow was suffocated and strangled by her nursing home roommate – who had exhibited previous signs of mental instability. Her son tried to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home but was blocked because of an arbitration agreement he had signed on behalf of his mother. Acting as her Health Care Proxy, the son had signed a binding arbitration agreement with the nursing home that forced him to bring his concern to arbitration, rather than court. Refusing to accept that he was unable to seek justice for his mother, Barrow’s son sought legal help and successfully fought for the right to proceed with legal action. In 2014, a judge made a pivotal ruling that has the potential to alter contract and arbitration laws for years to come.
Arbitration in assisted-living facility contracts
In recent years arbitration agreements have found their way into contracts in nearly every industry. The draw for businesses is clear. Including an arbitration agreement clause in your contract protects a business from time consuming, expensive and public legal battles. But, especially in cases such as nursing home contracts, these agreements rarely benefit those signing them.
When it comes to nursing home contracts, signing an arbitration agreement upon admission to a facility means that should a concern arise (preventable falls, elder abuse, wrongful deaths, negligence, and more), you are prohibited from taking legal action in a court of law. Rather, you are required to seek a resolution through the use of a professional arbitrator. Your case will not see a courtroom. No jury or judge will hear the complaint and it will not be in the public’s record. It’s time for these agreements to be questioned before more families find their rights impinged upon by legal documents they don’t understand.
What to know before signing a nursing home agreement
Entering a parent or loved one into a nursing home facility is emotionally taxing. As Mrs. Barrow’s son said, signing documents such an arbitration agreement seemed like nothing more than “a formality,” particularly after an already difficult and emotional process. He signed a legally binding document, on behalf of his mother, without understanding the ramifications of doing so and without understanding the full contents of the contract.
Before signing any contract on behalf of a loved one, contact a lawyer for review. Placing someone you love in an assisted-living facility is an enormous undertaking, and you will want to ensure you and your loved one’s legal rights are protected. Never sign a document you do not understand.
However, if you did sign a contract stating you or your loved one is not able to bring a legal action against the negligent parties, still seek the advice of a highly qualified nursing home abuse attorney who may be able to help you fight the claim.
Contact a nursing home abuse lawyer in Baltimore, Maryland or Washington, D.C. today
As the Barrow’s case shows, patients and families who have been the victim of nursing home abuse do have a few legal options even if you’ve signed an arbitration agreement. Mr. Barrows’ legal team clearly demonstrated that a competent, knowledgeable and persistent legal team can assist you in ensuring your case sees its day in court. If you have been the victim of nursing home abuse, or have general questions about nursing home contracts and arbitration agreements, the experienced personal injury lawyers at Schochor, Federico and Staton are available to walk you through the process. Call our experts today at 410-234-1000 to review your nursing home contract. We represent clients in Washington D.C. and throughout Maryland.