A Michigan Court has stricken an ‘arbitration clause’ from a pending wrongful death lawsuit against a Michigan nursing home. In the case of High v. Capital Senior Living Properties, a nursing home resident’s son filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility for failing to properly supervise his mother. Among the claims made in the lawsuit, the Plaintiff, Sidney High, claims the facility was negligent in allowing his mother (who had Alzheimer’s) to wander from the facility and freeze to death.
After filing the wrongful death lawsuit, Capital Senior Living filed a motion to dismiss and attempted to force the claims made in the lawsuit to proceed under arbitration. The facility claimed they were entitled to have any claims made against them in a private, arbitration setting per the terms of their admission documents.
In siding with son of the deceased nursing home resident, the Federal Court reasoned that there were multiple factors that weighed in favor of striking the arbitration clause in the nursing home admission contract. Among the factors the court looked at in determining the arbitration clauses invalidity was that the clause was never signed by the resident herself and the woman did not have the mental capacity at the time of her admission to reasonably comprehend the significance of the contract.
In an effort to avoid litigation and keep information regarding the quality of care provided in nursing homes private, many nursing homes have inserted arbitration agreements into nursing home admission documents. Unlike most personal injury lawsuits, where a jury determines the amount of compensation due to an injured person, an binding arbitration (as most arbitration clauses specify) allow one person to determine the damages to be awarded to an individual or family. Moreover, many nursing home arbitration clauses allow the nursing facility to appoint the arbitrator themselves– hardly an independent trier of fact.
Many states have stricken arbitration clauses from nursing home injury and death cases and have allowed the matters to be heard by a judge or jury. Last session, Congress introduced the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, which would effectively invalidate all arbitration clauses. We will keep blog readers updated as to the status of this important development in nursing home legislation as the new Congress convenes.