Massachusetts Nursing Home Abuse Can Go To Jury, Not Arbitration

If you have placed someone that you love in a nursing home, signed a healthcare proxy on their behalf, and later decide you want to sue in court for Massachusetts nursing home abuse , or file a Massachusetts wrongful death suit, this blog post is for you. That’s because many Massachusetts nursing home contracts require the patient or the patient’s representative to submit to binding arbitration (outside of court) in the event of a legal dispute, instead of allowing the plaintiff to file a lawsuit in court, and argue his or her case to a jury. These are known as “binding arbitration clauses.” Are they always valid? No.

A recent court decision in Massachusetts illustrates that in some cases, these binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts can be defeated, allowing a plaintiff to bring his or her case in court, to a jury. This is important, because most nursing homes compel you to go to binding arbitration, waiving the right to a jury trial.

Here’s a brief version of the case that defeated such a nursing home binding arbitration clause. A man named Salvatore Licata admitted his mother to a hospital, as she was suffering from Alzheimer’s-type dementia. On the day after the hospital admission, Licata’s mother, Rita, signed a Massachusetts Healthcare Proxy appointing her son as her healthcare agent, with the authority to make all healthcare decisions for her, should a physician determine that she lacked the capacity to do so on her own.

Four days later Rita was discharged and transferred to a nursing home. At the nursing home intake meeting, Mr. Licata filled out all of the necessary paperwork, saying, however, that he didn’t fully understand all of the papers. As part of that process, he signed a two-page agreement in which Rita had agreed that if there was any future claim against the nursing home, for negligence or otherwise, that the matter would go to out-of-court arbitration and not to court. In 2009 Rita died. Mr. Licata believed her death was a result of Massachusetts nursing home negligence, and filed a wrongful death suit.

A Superior Court judge has ruled that since Mr. Licata signed a healthcare proxy – and not a “Power of Attorney,” which is a different type of document – it would not bar his wrongful death suit against the facility. What this means is that he is not compelled to submit to arbitration, outside of court. He can, in fact, have a jury trial for his Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit. A Superior Court judge found that the proxy was not properly activated at the time, and that even if it was, that Mr. Licata still lacked the authority to waive his mother’s right to a jury trial.

So if you should find yourself in a position where you wish to sue a nursing home, there is hope for your case.

As a Massachusetts nursing home abuse attorney, I can also tell you this: Nursing home abuse is one of the fastest-growing areas of Massachusetts personal injury litigation. There are two reasons why. First, there is an ever-increasing number of nursing home residents, due to average Americans having a longer lifespan. Second, many nursing homes are owned by large corporate organizations, who care more about the “bottom line” of profitability, than they do patient care.

The right of civil jury trial is one of the most important civil legal rights that we have, and this very correct decision underscores that point.