By James Ragano, Esquire with Stockham Law Group, Tampa, FL
You’re there. Sitting in a well-lit office of a friendly nursing home employee, and a stack of paperwork has been placed in front of you. The nursing home staff is setting up your husband’s room, and introducing him to the other residents. You are anxious to get the paperwork done so you can be with him. You sign what’s in front of you without reviewing it. Without knowing it, you have just waived your husband’s right to sue the nursing home in the event something bad happens.
Nursing homes often use “Arbitration Agreements” in order to avoid being sued in a court of law. If the nursing home staff bothers to explain to you what that means, which hardly ever happens, they might tell you that an “Arbitration” is simply a way to resolve the dispute quickly without the expense and hassle of going to court. Don’t believe them. Agreeing to an arbitration means waiving you and your spouse’s right to a jury trial if the nursing home does not provide good care. It means that lawyers, rather than a jury of your peers, will decide the merits of your case.
So, what do you do? First, take a deep breath. The nursing home cannot refuse admission to your loved one if you decide not to sign the arbitration agreement. Second, ask to take the paperwork home so that you and your family can review it. Often, there is other paperwork in the materials which can have a big impact upon you and your family’s rights and financial security. Third, show the paperwork to a lawyer. A lawyer can give you an opinion about whether the paperwork you have been asked to sign waives, or otherwise interferes with, your rights.
The nursing home admissions process is stressful. Be sure to take the time you need to have all paperwork reviewed and approved before signing anything.