It is common for nursing homes to take steps to shield themselves from litigation involving the care of their residents. There are currently heated arguments concerning the courts’ willingness to honor “arbitration clauses” in residents’ contracts. “Arbitration clauses” are often included in the living agreements signed when someone becomes a resident of a nursing home. They basically state that claims against the home will not be solved through the courts, but will instead be handled by an outside, professional arbitrator that the nursing home hires. The US Supreme Court recently decided not to hear an appeal concerning an elder abuse case wherein a lower court ordered a home to pay damages to the residents, despite the fact that the resident signed a contract with an “arbitration clause”.
While “arbitration clauses” are generally taken into consideration, they can be treated with suspicion, due to the fact that an arbitrator may be biased towards the institution (in this case, the nursing home) that hires him and may want to hire him again in the future. In Beverly Enterprises, Inc. vs. Ping, there may have been negligence so severe that it resulted in a resident’s death. The resident’s estate would potentially have the right to file a “wrongful death” suit against the nursing home, citing egregious actions or abuse that led to the patient’s death
Another case the US Supreme Court chose not to review, concerning the wrongful death of a patient, ended in a lower court ruling against the Illinois nursing home it was brought against. Though an “arbitration clause” stated that controversies meeting or exceeding $200,000 would be settled in arbitration, not the courts, the clause was signed by the daughter of the deceased, as a representative of the deceased. She did not represent the deceased’s entire family, who the Illinois Supreme Court ruled had a valid claim in the wrongful death suit.
Negligence and abuse can be an unfortunate reality and it is making national news. Organizations based out of Indiana, Health & Hospital Corporation and American Senior Communities, LLC, have had a tragic wrongful death lawsuit brought against them. In the case of Betty Riley, it is being argued that her death was a result of medical complications relating to blunt force trauma. It is alleged that she suffered this condition during a physical altercation with another patient of the nursing home, and that the nursing home itself is responsible for negligence in allowing such a situation to arise. If Betty Riley’s family wins their case against the nursing home, their compensation would not exceed $300,000. The state patient fund would cover just under half of the settlement, with the nursing home having to pay the remainder.
The National Center on Elder Abuse recently included in a report the number of reported citations against nursing homes. The NCEA reports that from 1999-2001, 1 in 3 nursing homes were cited for violations that directly did lead, or potentially could have led, to harm. 1 in 10 were cited for violations that “caused residents harm, serious injury or placed them in jeopardy of death.”
There are several reasons a nursing home may have judgments levied against them, in Louisiana and elsewhere in the nation. Aside from physical abuse from employees, failure to intervene in altercations between residents can also result in money owed to complainants. Psychological abuse; negligence regarding patient care, building issues and hiring practices; failure to properly train staff – these are all offenses that can result in a nursing home having to pay damages or other forms of compensation.