Supreme Court Sides With Ky. Nursing Homes
Long-term care facilities may use questionable tactics to prevent juries from hearing about nursing home neglect, according to the United States Supreme Court.
The decision came from the pen of Justice Elena Kagan. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the case.
In Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark, the plaintiffs signed a bundle of admission documents to allow their loved ones to live at the facility. A binding arbitration agreement, which prevented plaintiffs from bringing nursing home neglect claims in court, was buried in all the paperwork. While the plaintiffs had a general power of attorney to make some decisions on behalf of their relatives, they did not have the authority to waive their legal claims.
The residents later died, and court documents state that their deaths were the result of nusring home neglect.
When the survivors filed wrongful death suits, the nursing home immediately moved to dismiss the lawsuits, citing the arbitration clauses which stated that “[a]ny and all claims or controversies arising out of or in any way relating to . . . the Resident’s stay at the Facility” were subject to “binding arbitration.” Subsequently, the Kentucky Supreme Court, citing the “inviolate” and “sacred” right to a jury trial, invalidated the agreements.
The Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act requires that arbitration contracts be on equa footing with all other contracts, and the Kentucky Supreme Court’s invcation of the so-called clear statement rule violates that principle. Furthermore, according to Justice Kagan, although the FAA is generally invoked in enforcement situations, it also applies with regard to initial validity decisions.
Essentially, the Court held that arbitration clauses are valid unless there is a specific reason to overturn them, and a general principle, such as the constitutional guarantee of a jury trial, is insufficient.
Justice Thomas has consistently maintained that the FAA does not apply to state court proceedings.
Application to Nursing Home Neglect Claims
Sending a loved one to live at a long-term care facility is usually a very stressful time. In addition to the emotional angst and common feelings of guilt, there may be financial concerns as well. As a result, many people simply sign the admissions papers without bothering to read them carefully. That is understandable, but in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, this innocent oversight could have significant legal consequences.
Companies would much rather take nursing home neglect cases to arbitration rather than trial, because the monetary awards in arbitration cases are usually lower than jury verdicts, and also because during most arbitration procedures, the nursing home neglect is not made public.
It’s a good idea to have an attorney present during the admissions process to help ensure that everything goes smoothly and important rights are not waived inadvertently and irreversibly.
Nursing home neglect victims must be diligent to get their days in court. For a free consultation with an experienced negligence lawyer in Cave City, contact Attorney Gary S. Logsdon. After hours visits are available.