Nursing Home Murder Raises Questions About Arbitration Agreements
Posted by PKSD Law Firm on Feb 23, 2016 in Nursing Home Abuse
In 2009 Elizabeth Barrow was found with a plastic bag over her head, strangled and suffocated to death, in her bed in a Massachusetts nursing home. According to police, she was murdered by her 97-year-old roommate.
Just months earlier, workers at the nursing home, Brandon Woods, described the roommate in patient files as being at risk of harming herself or others, yet refused to move her from Mrs. Barrow’s room.
Since her death six years ago, the woman’s only son, Scott, has been fighting to hold the nursing home accountable for her death.
However, he has been barred from taking the facility to court because the contract he signed when his mother moved into the home contained an arbitration clause, requiring any dispute to be handled privately outside a court of law with no judge or jury.
Controversial Hidden Arbitration Clauses
Arbitration clauses have become increasingly popular in a number of industries that add the clauses within contracts for items like credit cards, student loans and cellphone service.
The nursing home industry in particular has embraced the practice of burying the clauses deep within complex contracts that are difficult for the elderly or emotional family members to navigate.
Many feel the clauses are unfair because the people signing them are often unaware of what they are signing or do not even know that such a thing exists.
Regulators have expressed concern that the secretive nature of the clauses can hide wrongdoings on behalf of the company because the outcome of most arbitration cases is not made public.
Many also point to the biased nature of the proceedings. In the case of Mr. Barrow, the legal team running the arbitration had handled more than 400 arbitration cases for the lawyers representing the nursing home. How can the arbitration firm remain unbiased when it draws so much business from one party?
Fighting for Change
After years of fighting, Mr. Barrow will finally have the opportunity for his case to be heard in court next month. Many will be closely watching the outcome of the case, which has become a critical test of a legal strategy to prevent nursing homes from forcing residents to sign arbitration clauses.
The tide throughout the country is slowly changing against the use of arbitration clauses in nursing homes. Officials in more than 16 states are pushing for Medicaid and Medicare payments to be withheld from facilities that use the clauses. More and more judges are also refusing to uphold the clauses.
Our attorneys have continued to support the banning of the use of arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts because of their failure to protect patients’ rights. If your loved one has suffered nursing home abuse and has not been able to pursue proper justice, we can help.