In his October 3, 2014 written opinion, a Pennsylvania trial judge held that a nursing home’s arbitration agreement was unconscionable because the agreement was so one-sided, violated public policy, was misleading, was confusing, and that some of the provisions were overreaching.
The arbitration agreement not only waived the right for the resident to have a jury trial in the event there was a dispute between her and the nursing home, the agreement went even further, providing that the dispute would be resolved by a bench trial (no jury, just a judge) even if the arbitration agreement was found to be unenforceable.
The trial judge wrote, “Arbitration may be fine for monetary issues in business transactions, but injuries caused intentionally or negligently in tort should not be the subject of routine arbitration unless both parties fully and completely negotiated and agreed to the final terms. Unlike contracts where the issues are relatively clear and a breach can be easily identified, negligence issues are not so obvious.”
The resident’s daughter had signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother, without her mother’s knowledge. The daughter was not authorized to sign the arbitration agreement on her mother’s behalf, the daughter did not read the entire agreement before she signed it, and the daughter did not understand the arbitration agreement that she signed.
The trial judge noted the great disparity in the bargaining positions of the nursing home and the resident’s daughter, and further noted that the daughter was unable to negotiate the terms of the arbitration agreement — she was required to accept the terms of the agreement as they were set forth (her mother had been admitted to the defendant nursing home the day before the daughter signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother).
The Underlying Claim Against The Nursing Home
The mother had voluntarily entered the defendant nursing home in February 2011. Her health declined over time and she was later diagnosed with dementia.
In January 2013, a nurse at the defendant nursing home called the police after finding the woman lying in her bed, with a laceration above her eye and blood on her hands and her pillowcase. The resident was unable to explain what had happened to her. She was transported from the nursing home to a local hospital emergency room.
An investigation reportedly revealed that the resident had become combative when a nursing aide entered her room to change her brief. A second nursing aide allegedly observed the first nursing aide hold the resident down, hit her on her arm, and throw a can of shaving cream at the resident’s face, which struck the woman above her left eye. The first nursing aide was reported to have stated that it was an accident that the resident had been hit in her face, and she denied that she had hit the resident on her arm.
The daughter filed a nursing home negligence lawsuit as administrator of her mother’s estate (her mother died in August 2013). The defendant nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration of the nursing home negligence claim, which was the subject of the trial judge’s October 3, 2014 order denying arbitration of the nursing home claim.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries while a resident of a nursing home in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a Pennsylvania nursing home claim attorney, or a nursing home claim attorney in your state, who may investigate your nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, or nursing home neglect claim for you and represent you in a case against a nursing home, if appropriate.
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