NPR had a great article on the inherent unfairness of forced arbitration in nursing home contracts. The article discusses the tragic case of Dean Cole who was neglected at a nursing home and died from dehydration. His wife, Virginia, had signed a stack of papers when her husband was admitted to the nursing home. One of the concealed forms was a binding agreement to go to arbitration if she ever had a claim against the facility. So instead of getting a jury trial which is a constitutional right, her claim for wrongful death was heard by three private arbitrators. They charge for their services. The arbitration bill for the arbitrators was $60,750. Virginia Cole won her claim, but after paying the arbitrators, expert witnesses and attorney’s fees, she was left with less than $20,000.
The federal government is now considering safeguards that would regulate the way nursing homes present arbitration agreements when residents are admitted. But more than 50 labor, legal, medical and consumer organizations have told the government that’s not enough. They want these pre-dispute arbitration agreements banned entirely. Thirty-four U.S. senators and attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia also have called for banning the agreements.
“No one should be forced to accept denial of justice as a price for the care their loved ones deserve,” says Henry Waxman, a former congressman from California. Arbitration agreements keep the neglect and abuse of nursing home residents secret, Waxman says, because the cases aren’t tried in open court and resolutions sometimes have gag rules. “None of the systemic health and safety problems that cause the harm will ever see the light of day,” he says.