Articles Posted in Arbitration Agreements

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Imagine your mother is ill and you can no longer provider her around-the-clock care.  You get together with your family and you go through a difficult and lengthy process to select the best long term care facility for her.  You find a nursing home that seems to meet your mother’s needs.  You sign the paperwork with relief, trusting that your mother will be taken care of at the facility.   The last thing on your mind is the thought of suing the nursing home.

Unfortunately, the nursing home has been focusing on a possible lawsuit, not the care.  Most admissions paperwork will have an arbitration agreement buried inside it.  So, in most cases, the nursing home has already assumed you will sue them and they have made the decision to put their bottom line ahead of your mother’s care.  The nursing home also breathed a sigh of relief when you signed the admissions paperwork because when you signed your mother into the nursing home, you just signed an arbitration agreement.

Traditionally, arbitration agreements in have been a regular feature in nursing home contracts for quite a while now in Tennessee.  The trend in Tennessee had been to increasingly find these contracts to be legal and enforceable.  Arbitration agreements in contracts are favored in Tennessee both by statute and existing case law, which can be found at Benton v. Vanderbilt. The Tennessee Legislature enacted the Uniform Arbitration Act, which embraced a legislative policy favoring enforcement of arbitration agreements, which is discussed in Buraczynski v. Eyring. Further, Tennessee law states that “a provision in a written contract to submit to arbitration any controversy thereafter arising between the parties is valid, enforceable and irrevocable save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract . . .”

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Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 2.10.56 PMMany nursing home negligence claims are subject to arbitration agreements signed by a family member. The validity of the agreement can be a significant source of controversy because if the finding is for the defendant nursing home, the plaintiff loses the right to a jury trial.

In the 2011 case of Blackmon v. LP Pigeon Forge, LLC, a Tennessee court considered whether an arbitration agreement bound the son of a woman who died in a nursing home. The mother had been hospitalized in 2008, before which she’d lived alone for more than 10 years, handling her own meals and finances. She admitted herself to a medical center due to sores. She was hospitalized for three days and interacted intelligently with her family during that period.

She was alert when she left the hospital to stay at Pigeon Forge, a rehabilitation center for a short period. She stayed for 20 days. The son later sued, claiming that she had declined while there and hadn’t received adequate care. When she was finally removed from Pigeon Forge, she had Stage IV bedsores that were massively infected, and she died due to organ failure from those infections.

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