When elderly loved ones are no longer able to live on their own, many family members turn to an assisted living facility or nursing home. While many of these facilities provide excellent care, there are times that the system fails. Some nursing homes are understaffed with underpaid and poorly trained employees; others may put profits over patients. If a loved one has suffered a life-changing physical injury or you have lost a loved one because an assisted living facility or nursing home was negligent or failed to fulfill its care obligations, you may have grounds for a nursing home negligence case – that is, if there is no arbitration clause in the contract.
A September 2015 wrongful lawsuit alleged that staff at the Bloomfield Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in New Mexico provided inadequate treatment resulting in the death of resident, Jeanette Costeanna. According to complaint, the nursing home staff ignored Costeanna’s dietary needs, and that inattention led to dehydration, malnutrition and weight loss, and bed sores, which resulted in the patient’s death. The woman also developed infections and suffered injuries, including an “unexplained” arm bone fracture, while being cared for at the facility, according to the lawsuit.
Three months later, Garland Kent Wilkinson filed a lawsuit alleging that his father, Charlie Wilkinson, died due to the facility’s neglect. According to the lawsuit, Charlie Wilkinson had a history of delusional psychosis, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, a seizure disorder and dementia – conditions that required close monitoring and constant care. The lawsuit asserts that due to negligence, the patient developed bed sores, dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss, ultimately resulting in his death.
A third lawsuit against the nursing home was filed on March 11 alleging that Fannie Mace died in July 2014 as a result of malnutrition, pressure sores and dehydration. The lawsuit further contends that the woman suffered an ankle fracture in June 2014, due to a fall that could have been prevented if Bloomfield Nursing and Rehabilitation had provided proper staffing.
BNRC is not the only New Mexico nursing home facing such allegations. A March 18 lawsuit claims that negligent care at the Life Care Center of Farmington contributed to a patient’s death in December 2013. The suit alleges that Jewel Blair not only developed infections and pressure sores while at the facility, but also broke her neck during a fall. Melanie Bossie, an attorney representing these the two latest wrongful death cases said Preferred Care Partners Management and Life Care Centers of America, both for-profit companies, cut costs to maximize profits.
Sadly, Ms. Bossie may be right. According to a recent report by The Huffington Post, nursing homes today have set up their corporate structure to maximize profit at the residents’ expense. One report discovered that in 60 percent of nursing homes purchased by for-profit corporations, staffing was cut to the point that there was only one registered nurse for every 20 residents. In addition, nursing homes often have mandatory arbitration clauses in their admission agreement which generally insulates and protects the nursing home corporation from being held fully accountable for their negligence and the harm they cause residents. These agreements will bar an injured nursing home patient or the family from filing a personal injury or wrongful death case due to nursing home negligence or abuse. Instead, the case is heard by an arbitrator; in most cases, one chosen and paid by the nursing home, and subject to rules and procedures dictated by the nursing home. New Mexico, like most states, honors and enforces arbitration clauses, unless enforceability is questioned. When big businesses can write their own rules and insulate themselves from being held accountable for wrongdoing, it is hardly impartial, is it?
No one should ever have to deal with the legal consequences of a loved one harmed by nursing home negligence. However, if the need does arise, the family deserves the rights to our justice system as guaranteed by the Constitution. Contact your state representative and tell him/her to vote in favor of the Arbitration Fairness Act which would effectively invalidate all arbitration clauses and restore our rights to hold corporations accountable.
In the meantime, if you are presented with a mandatory arbitration agreements, refuse to sign it. Some states, including New Mexico, refusing to sign an arbitration agreement cannot be a condition of admission into the nursing home facility. As such, there is no good reason to sign one. If you have already signed an arbitration agreement, an attorney can help you determine whether it is likely to be enforceable. There are cases when nursing home neglect attorneys can successfully challenge the clause and allow a traditional lawsuit to be brought.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. The series features super-trial lawyer Zachary Blake handling "ripped from the headlines" legal and political issues of the day. The series currently consists of Betrayal of Faith, Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, Betrayal in Black, and Betrayal High, with a sixth Zachary Blake novel due out later this year. To learn more about these topical social justice legal thrillers. please visit markmbello.com. Mark is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.