Senate Approves Bill to Protect Right to File Nursing Home Lawsuit
Last week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act of 2008, which is designed to preserve the right to file a nursing home lawsuit in court to hold facilities accountable for abusive and negligent care of residents. The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation in July.
If passed by the full congress, the legislation would invalidate nursing home arbitration clauses that are often buried in the admission contracts. These provisions require that any dispute between a resident and a facility be resolved through secretive arbitration, including claims that neglect or abuse resulted in permanent or fatal injury.
Most residents and family members never see or know the nursing home arbitration provisions are there, and certainly do not understand that the arbitration process strongly favors the nursing home industry. The arbitrator panels designated in the agreements often receive a substantial amount of their business from the nursing home industry, and it is hard for a resident to obtain a fair resolution of their claim though this process.
Public Citizen, a prominent consumer advocacy group, has been strongly supported the legislation since nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits are a critical tool in prompting nursing homes to provide better care for their residents. Similar arbitration clauses are seen in credit card agreements, and a 2007 Public Citizen study involving 34,000 credit card arbitration cases showed that the industry won 94.7 percent of the cases.
Not surprisingly, the nursing home industry has been working hard to kill the legislation so that they can attempt to insulate themselves from the public accountability and liability provided by litigation in court. Prior to the Senate Judiciary Committee vote, a deceptive letter was sent to the chairman and ranking committee member urging them not to approve the bill. The letter claimed to be from a “diverse coalition of senior, caregiver, taxpayer and business advocacy organizations,” but Public Citizen identified nearly all of the signers as business and professional associations working to limit corporate accountability for wrongdoing.
The letter also incorrectly claimed that the Nursing Home Arbitration Act could eliminate the use of arbitration. In actuality, the bill specifically allows consumers to choose whether they wish to pursue their case through arbitration or court. If a truly impartial and unbiased arbitrator or arbitration panel is identified by a specific nursing home attorney representing an injured resident, it is very possible that private alternative dispute resolution will be chosen over an open court lawsuit. However, at least the bill would guarantee that residents will have the option to make that choice, and the courthouse doors will remain open to them.
NURSING HOME ATTORNEYS
The nursing home attorneys at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. investigate potential cases for abuse and neglect throughout the United States. Nursing home lawsuits not only serve to secure compensation for injuries suffered, but also act as an important safeguard in our society to ensure that proper standards of care are followed in the industry.
If you, a friend or family member have suffered a nursing home injury, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.