Take care when signing a contract, and always know what you’re signing.
That’s advice that leapt to mind when I read the recent New York Times article on a nursing home killing. According to the Times, an elderly woman in a nursing home was suffocated to death by her roommate, an elderly woman with mental health issues. Per the article, nursing home workers had previously reported that the roommate may pose a danger to others. The victim’s son has been trying to hold the nursing home accountable for years, but has faced an obstacle: the nursing home admission agreement.
According to the Times, the agreement included a mandatory arbitration clause, requiring that any dispute with the nursing home would be resolved through arbitration rather than a lawsuit in the courts. Arbitration is perceived as being more favorable to companies in disputes with consumers, because, as the article says, “there is no judge or jury and the proceedings are hidden from public scrutiny.” While arbitration clauses are sometimes struck down as unconscionable or unenforceable, normally the clause is upheld and disputes must go to arbitration.
It drives home the point that you should know what you’re signing. If a loved one is going into a facility, it’s often a tiring and emotionally draining process. Family members often sign contracts on behalf of a resident with little knowledge of what they’re signing. That can be a costly mistake.
In addition to arbitration clauses, admission contracts may include provisions that subject family members to liability if the resident can’t pay. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have sued people who signed contracts on behalf of a relative, seeking the relative’s unpaid bills. While it’s not clear whether the facility would be successful in that situation, it’s a lot cheaper to not agree to that portion of the contract than to litigate the issue. Admission contracts can also limit Medicaid planning opportunities and include other unfavorable provisions.
If you or a loved one is going into a nursing home or assisted living facility, it would be very wise to have a lawyer review the admission agreement to make sure you understand what you’re signing, and if appropriate, negotiate on unfavorable provisions. For more information, call or email FriedmanLaw.