An important bit of legislation made its way before Congress this past week when Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Georgia House Representative Hank Johnson proposed the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013. The measure may not sound terribly interesting, but it contains a critically important provision that would eliminate the current practice of sneaking mandatory arbitration clauses into many nursing home contracts.
The law was written as an attempt to end the unfair practice of many nursing home operators that force those entering a nursing home facility to sign a document that requires arbitration in the event of a dispute with the operator. These arbitration agreements insulate the companies from being held fully accountable in a court of law and work to the detriment of injured individuals who often are unaware that they have signed away their right to sue nursing homes in the event of abuse, negligence or neglect.
The Arbitration Fairness Act was designed to put a stop to mandatory arbitration clauses. The law would prevent companies from forcing arbitration in all consumer, employment, anti-trust and civil rights cases. While arbitration clauses would still be legal, the measure specifies that they would only be upheld in cases where the clause was truly voluntarily entered into by both parties.
Many times, nursing home companies tell prospective residents that the arbitration agreement is take-it-or-leave-it and not up for negotiation, something that leaves consumers and patients with no choice. Nursing home corporations frequently use forced arbitration clauses as a way to avoid accountability for their negligence by inserting the provision in the fine print of lengthy resident admission documents. Given the legalese used in the arbitration clauses, many families are unaware they have signed away their rights until something tragic happens.
So far, the law has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate and 22 co-sponsors in the House. Experts say that unfortunately the legislation faces an uphill battle given the current conservative makeup of Congress. Though the chances of passage in the House may be slim, concerned citizens who have or might soon have loved ones in a nursing home facility should contact their legislators and tell them just how important the Arbitration Fairness Act is.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC) and Massachusetts (MA), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.