Massachusetts Nursing Home Resident’s Family Avoids Arbitration, Then Lands $500K Settlement in Wrongful Death Case

A development in a Massachusetts nursing home negligence case serves as an important reminder of many things, but one in particular. That one particular thing is just how incredibly important it is to be ready to oppose, and defeat, a facility owner’s motion to derail your case via arbitration. Failure to avoid arbitration at this stage means never getting to argue your case in front of a jury, and having to present your case in a setting where it may be harder to get the full amount you deserve. A success at this stage opens up a variety of opportunities for obtaining the compensation your family needs. To ensure you are equipped to take on the other side and succeed, be sure you have experienced Massachusetts injury counsel in your corner, advocating for your needs.

An example of this type of situation played out in a Massachusetts wrongful death action, with the plaintiff receiving a $500,000 settlement recently. The case involved a 100-year-old resident of a Bristol County nursing home, whom her 98-year-old roommate allegedly suffocated with a plastic bag. After the resident’s death, the deceased woman’s son filed a wrongful death claim against the nursing home.

There are many possible ways that a nursing home can be liable for the injury to, or death of, a resident. One way, of course, is through neglect of the resident. Neglect can manifest through untreated bedsores, malnutrition or dehydration. Another way, however, is inadequately providing for resident safety. For residents with memory/cognitive issues, this can involve inadequate systems to prevent residents from wandering away.

In this case, the assertion was that the facility failed to protect the deceased resident from a roommate it knew or should have known presented a risk of harm. The deceased woman’s son argued that the roommate had shown a “propensity for violence” but that the nursing home failed to address the danger. As is true in many cases, the facility sought to obtain a court order that would have forced resolving the case through arbitration instead of at trial. The nursing home won its request and, subsequently, won its case in the arbitration hearing. That meant the deceased woman’s case recovered nothing.

Fortunately, that was not the end for the decedent’s family. A Massachusetts appellate court decision ruled that there existed no enforceable arbitration agreement in this situation. The son, and not the resident, had signed the arbitration agreement. The son, however, did not have the proper legal authority to enter into such an agreement on his mother’s behalf. That meant the arbitration agreement was not valid and the family was entitled to move forward with their claim against the nursing home.

That victory was an important one. Prior to arbitration, the nursing home likely would have offered only a small amount in settlement (or no settlement at all). After losing in the appeals court, the nursing home came forward in recent weeks with a settlement amount (one-half million dollars) that was substantial enough to lead the family to accept.

The outcome of this case was a successful one for this family, but it could have resulted in a very different outcome. The facts demonstrate the importance of both (1) being very careful (and very well-informed) about any arbitration agreement, or other forfeiture of legal rights, before you sign a contract, and (2) placing on your side the resources it takes to achieve success in the legal system. If you have a loved one who was hurt by the actions or inaction of nursing home staff, be prepared by making sure you have skilled legal representation. Knowledgeable Plymouth County injury lawyer Michael S. Mehrmann has spent many years effectively representing people from across Plymouth County, including Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury in their nursing home negligence cases. To find out more about how we can help you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.