Nursing homes can't use arbitration to deflect lawsuits, court says

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Nursing homes cannot use arbitration agreements to combat lawsuits related to residents' care, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Friday. The court decided, in the unanimous decision, that “disputes should be decided by juries of lay citizens rather than paid, professional fact finders who may be more interested in their fees than the disputes at hand," according to published reports.

The ruling was issued in response to several families in the state having brought suit against nursing homes only to have them dismissed due to binding arbitration clauses. Nursing homes' binding arbitration agreements are designed to defray costly lawsuits, said West Virginia Health Association CEO Patrick Kelly. He said the ruling would increase providers' cost of doing business, the Associated Press reported.

In the court's decision, Justice Menis Ketchum wrote that the process of filling out nursing home paperwork is “fraught” and that residents may not realize the legal implications of what they are signing. "People seek medical care in a nursing home for long-term treatment to heal; they rarely view the admission process as an interstate commercial transaction with far-reaching legal consequences," he wrote.