Nursing Home Admission Forms and the Impact They Could Have on a Future Negligence Lawsuit in Massachusetts

For many people, the decision to enter (or to place a loved one in) a nursing home is a difficult and stressful one. The time when the patient first goes into the facility is one filled with many changes and many necessary things to consider. One thing that may be easy to overlook is the paperwork that must be signed as part of the admissions process. Don’t make the mistake of just “glossing over” this step and automatically signing everything put in front of you without legal counsel. Some of these documents may be optional, and signing them may not be in your family’s best interests in the event that you or your loved one is harmed as a result of negligence by the facility staff. Instead, make sure you are armed with knowledge before you sign by relying on the representation of a knowledgeable Massachusetts nursing home negligence attorney.

Knowing before you sign is important because, once you sign, you may not be able to “take it back,” and that signature could be a significant negative for your family. For example, take the federal case involving Emma, an elderly woman who entered a Chestnut Hill nursing home in early February 2013. Later that month, Emma’s daughter Jackalyn signed several documents related to the nursing home admissions process. Over the course of the month, the daughter signed in excess of a dozen documents, ranging from DNR to an authorization for assignment of insurance benefits. Among the numerous other documents Jackalyn signed, one was something called an “Arbitration Agreement,” which the daughter signed but didn’t date.

Early the following December, Emma died. Jackalyn subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home. According to the daughter’s complaint, Emma died due to an extreme sepsis infection brought on by the pressure sores (or bedsores) on the woman’s body.

The nursing home promptly asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit and force the dispute into arbitration. Arbitration can be a useful tool, and there are many reasons why one might want to arbitrate a dispute. As a plaintiff in a nursing home negligence or wrongful death lawsuit, though, there are also very real and very good reasons why you might want to avoid arbitration and take your case directly to court. You may feel that your situation is such that arguing the matter in court will give you a better chance at a fairer outcome as opposed to arbitration.

Jackalyn certainly preferred to pursue her claim in court, instead of an arbitration hearing, but the court declared that she was not allowed to do so. The arbitration agreement was enforceable. The document was very clear that signing was optional and that acceptance of the arbitration provision was not a condition of the patient’s admission or continued care at the facility. In other words, the nursing home did not force the daughter to choose between accepting the terms of the arbitration agreement or else watching the facility turn her mother away. As a result, the agreement was not unconscionable and not a product of duress. Duress and unconscionability are two of the three legal standards generally available to invalidate contracts. (The other is fraud.) None of these was present in this case, so the nursing home was entitled to demand arbitration.

If you have a loved one who has been harmed by negligence committed by the staff of a nursing home, you may have options for obtaining compensation. Plymouth County nursing home negligence attorney Michael S. Mehrmann has spent many years helping people from across Plymouth County, including in Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury, deal with their legal needs. To find out more about how we can assist you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.