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Beware of arbitration clauses in Florida nursing home contracts

People faced with the sad but often necessary task of placing a loved one in a Florida nursing home often find themselves consumed with a variety of emotions. Consequently, they may not take the time to read the fine print in the facility's contract. Even if they do, few people outside the legal profession have the knowledge to understand all of the language.

Many nursing home contracts contain an arbitration clause. Such clauses, which are common in cable and cellphone contracts, stipulate that a customer cannot take the company to court. Instead, any case they bring must be decided by a private arbitrator. That may not seem like a serious problem if you want to take action against your cellphone provider. However, the stakes are much higher in nursing home care.

By signing a nursing home contract with an arbitration clause, you agree that if a loved one has suffered abuse, negligence or even wrongful death there, the family cannot hold the facility responsible in court. The nursing home can sue a customer, however. That's what happened when a man who held a nursing home responsible for his father's death told his story to the media. The nursing home is suing him for going public.

Private arbitrators are hired by companies to handle all of their cases. Therefore, they usually side with the company. Even if they don't, judgments ordered by arbitrators tend to be lower than those handed down by a judge or jury. Further, since the cases do not get the public exposure that a court case would, the community is not made aware of the allegations.

This is yet another issue where the people we elect to public office, and the people whom they in turn appoint matter. The Arbitration Fairness Act has gone nowhere in Congress. Further, the current U.S. Supreme Court has struck down challenges to these clauses.

While advocates for those in nursing homes urge people to refuse to sign nursing home arbitration clauses, people may not have a choice if they want a loved one to live in a particular facility. It may be wise to ask your attorney to review the contract before you sign it. Further, if you believe a loved one has been harmed by abuse or neglect at a nursing home, no matter what the contract stipulates, you should seek legal guidance to find out what your options are.

Source: Think Progress, "Nursing Home Neglect Allegedly Killed This Man, Here’s Why His Family Is Not Allowed To Sue" Nicole Flatow, Nov. 14, 2014

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