Wrongful death plaintiffs in Massachusetts must take claims against nursing homes to arbitration, regardless of whether they or their deceased relatives were the ones to sign an agreement.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock ruled March 31 that Massachusetts would follow states in allowing nursing homes to enforce arbitration agreements involving people who weren’t included in initial contracts.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld arbitration agreements against different types of challenges, Bloomberg Law reports, shaping national public policy for arbitration in many instances.
But their use remains controversial in nursing homes.
In 2016, federal agencies proposed rules banning pre-dispute arbitration in long-term care admissions. Even the court that denied the Obama administration’s attempt called arbitration “an effective tool for pure delay.”
Though arbitration is widely accepted two years later, questions remain about its legality and potential benefits.
In this case, Golden Living Center-Heathwood sought to force the daughter of a resident who died there into arbitration.
“This case is an example of the many skirmishes that continue along the recently intensifying — but wavering — battle line between those who support resolution of disputes by arbitration and those who support resolution of disputes by conventional litigation,” he wrote.
The judge ruled the defendant, Jackalyn Schrader, signed an arbitration agreement on her mother’s behalf, and that her “failure to read or understand” it did not exempt her from its terms. Schrader also argued that the extension of such agreements were arbitrary, but Golden Living countered that her claims were derived from the residents.
Without proof that a nursing home resident or guardian’s agreement was obtained by “fraud, duress, or misrepresentation,” it will be upheld, Woodlock said.
In other states, courts have ruled that wrongful death claims are not based on what the resident could have claimed if still alive.