Arbitration Diminishes the Rights of Nursing Home Residents

Person about to sign paper

Arbitration agreements might seems like a savvy move for nursing homes in Illinois, but some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens could be paying the price. These clauses are frequently overlooked since they are often tucked inside the extensive stacks of paperwork that are presented to nursing home residents and their loved ones during admission. And while they are designed to help consumers and nursing home facilities come to an agreement in a more timely and cost-effective manner when problems arise, they are generally not in the best interests of family members and elderly or disabled residents.

What is an Arbitration Clause?

Arbitration clauses are agreements that are often included in the mounds of paperwork that seniors, family members, and other loved ones are required to sign when admitting an elderly individual into a nursing home. By signing an arbitration agreement, the person agrees to solve any disputes (such as negligence or substandard care) that cannot be amicably resolved by presenting them to a professional arbitrator instead of filing a lawsuit. In essence, the resident’s (or loved one’s) right to a trial is signed away.

The Impact of Signing an Arbitration Agreement

While these agreements are frequently haphazardly signed by unsuspecting seniors and caregivers, they can have a significant impact when things go wrong.

  • Cost: Although disputes that are brought to arbitration are typically resolved much more quickly than those that go to court, which often means lower attorney fees, victims must also pay their portion of the professional arbitrator’s fees as well. These fees frequently add up quickly- sometimes costing hundreds of dollars per hour. When a nursing home abuse or neglect case goes to court, victims don’t pay the judge- tax dollars take care of that.
  • Amounts Awarded: According to experts, cases that are resolved by arbitrators often result in much lower award amounts than those that are brought to trial. In a study conducted between 2003 and 2011, a disturbing 30 percent of arbitrated cases resulted in no monetary award. And while almost 12 percent of cases brought to court resulted in awards of $250,000 or more, only 8.5 percent of arbitrated disputes had similar award amounts.
  • Public Record: Nursing home abuse, neglect, and wrongful death cases that are heard in court leave detailed public records that can be used to develop case law and inform consumers. Arbitrated cases are protected by confidentiality rules.