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Beware of arbitration clauses in Massachusetts' nursing homes

Recently, previous posts have delved into many issues affecting the residents of nursing homes throughout Massachusetts. Some of these issues relate to pharmaceutical malpractice and medical professional negligence, which can frequently arise in a nursing home environment. Another important issue that has come to light recently involves an arbitration clause which some nursing homes are now inserting into their documents upon admission. This clause can have far-reaching consequences that the family members and guardians should be made aware of.

When a man was admitted into a nursing home in Dennis, Massachusetts, his old friend and guardian signed a multitude of papers, not realizing that one in particular could have significant consequences in the near future. A few weeks after the man's friend was admitted into the nursing home, he was dropped by some of the staff members who were moving him from his chair to his bed. Although his vital signs stabilized, later that night he was rushed to the hospital as he was unresponsive. He died, and it was later determined that his death was due to extensive bleeding on his brain following the nursing home injury.

The victim's son attempted to pursue a wrongful death claim against the nursing home, but then discovered that his friend had unknowingly signed a mandatory arbitration agreement when checking him into the nursing home. This meant that the son was obligated to present the wrongful death claim in front of a professional arbitrator rather than a court of law. Luckily the judge presiding over the wrongful death claim threw out the mandatory arbitration clause stating that it was unconscionable and the victim's family was allowed to have their day in court.

Family members and guardians who are in the process of admitting their loved one into a nursing home should be beware of these clauses. Being forced into arbitration is not usually the best option.

Source : The Washington Post, "Signing a mandatory arbitration agreement with a nursing home can be troublesome," James Steidl, Sept. 17, 2012

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