Two cases were recently brought to the Supreme Court of the United States to determine whether state court decisions to allow descendants of nursing home residents bring wrongful death lawsuits against the nursing home, when arbitration agreements were in effect, were valid. The Supreme Court declined to overturn the state court decisions to allow the family of the victims to bring suit.
According to McKnights, the nursing home position was that the family members bringing the wrongful death lawsuits could not rightfully sue because arbitration agreements written into (and signed off on by the parties) the contract were binding and parties to the contract could not sue in connection with the contract.
In the first court case, which was in front of the Illinois Supreme Court, the daughter of a nursing home resident brought a lawsuit after she believed her mother’s death was caused by the nursing home’s actions. The nursing home claimed that the daughter could not bring the lawsuit because she had signed the arbitration agreement in the contract. The state court found that since the daughter signed on behalf of her mother, as her representative that she was not actually a party to the contract (because her mother has and she was just acting on her behalf) and that the daughter could bring a lawsuit on her own behalf as a family member of the victim of wrongful death.
In the second case, another daughter signed an arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother as her agent under a power of attorney. The nursing home argued that because the daughter signed, she was barred from bringing suit. However, the state court ruled that because the daughter signed the arbitration agreement when the power of attorney she had for her mother only allowed her to make financial and healthcare decisions, that her signature on the agreement was not binding.
Instead of reviewing the two cases and making a definite decision on the issue of arbitration agreements versus state laws regarding filing lawsuits on behalf of injured family members, the Supreme Court declined to review the cases. This means that the rulings stand as they were made by the state courts, but that the Supreme Court did not take a stand on the issue as a whole. This means that different state courts may continue to come out in different positions on these same issues. However, since one of these decisions mentioned above was made by the Illinois Supreme Court, that ruling is binding over the state of Illinois court cases, because it was decided by the highest court in the State of Illinois.
Our nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys remind all people entering nursing homes and all family member of those entering nursing homes to be cautious of arbitration agreements. While arbitration can be a useful and efficient alternative to litigation in certain situations and contexts, it is important to ensure that they are not used in situations where they may harm a person’s rights. In cases that may involve nursing home abuse and neglect, it is crucial that those responsible be held accountable for their actions. If you or a loved one was the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, please contact our office today to discuss what legal options may be available to your family.