It’s very common for nursing home and assisted living contracts to contain a section in which the applicant is asked to consent to arbitrate any dispute with the facility. By consenting to arbitration, the individual waives his or her right to file suit for damages or breach of contract, or other matters, in the court system. Lately, those contracts frequently have a statement that signing the arbitration clause is optional and that admission won’t be denied for failure to consent to arbitration. In 2010, in the case of Estate of Ruszala vs. Brookdale Living Communities, The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, invalidated a portion of a statute that sought to make all arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts unenforceable (N.J.S.A. 30:13-8.1), but held that each case had to be examined on its facts because in a given case, certain provisions of a contract might have to be stricken.
In a recent case, a long-term care resident of a skilled nursing facility in New Jersey sued for damages based on alleged negligent health care. The facility filed a motion to dismiss the case because the plaintiff had signed an arbitration agreement as part of his application for admission. As of now, the decision is “not approved for publication,” which means it is not precedential and is only binding on the parties to that case. However, as with other non-published decisions that I have discussed in this space, the facts and analysis are interesting and informative and useful for the general public to know about. The case is called Ricciardi vs Abingdon Care and Rehabilitation Center et al. and Kindred Hospital.Ricciardi v Abington Care Center
The facts that were established in the trial court were that Mr. Ricciardi signed his application for admission; there were 12 pages; each was signed and the time was noted; the whole process took one minute; staff did not give him any useful explanation of the impact of signing the arbitration agreement; he was not given a copy of the arbitration clause page although he was given a copy of other pages; and although the arbitration clause page provided a five-day right to cancel, the facility deprived him of this right because he wasn’t given a copy of the page to retain and review. The trial Court denied the motion to enforce the arbitration agreement, finding that the plaintiff did not actually consent to arbitration, and the appellate division affirmed that decision. The Court explained that “Any contractual waiver of rights, including arbitration provisions, must reflect that the parties have clearly and unambiguously agreed to the terms” and “must have full knowledge of their rights and show an intent to surrender those rights.”
Admission to skilled nursing facilities involves evaluation of intertwining issues of health care, residential rights, and financial obligations. Contracts can be confusing and obligations can be confusing. Elder care legal advice can be a very useful and protective part of the process.
Call us to review contracts and provide advice about care being provided in skilled nursing home settings .. 732-382-6070