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West Virginia Supreme Court against Nursing Home Medical Arbitration

Wednesday, July, 6, 2011

Medical arbitration received a setback in the Supreme Court of West Virginia this week when the justices ruled that arbitration agreements cannot be used to prevent lawsuits concerning the care residents receive in such facilities.  The decision was unanimous and held that “disputes should be decided by juries of lay citizens rather than paid, professional fact finders."


Several Arbitration Cases Brought by Families


Several families in West Virginia had attempted to sue nursing homes they regarded as providing substandard care to their loved ones.  These families had seen their lawsuits dismissed because of binding arbitration clauses present in the contracts signed with the nursing homes.  According to Patrick Kelley, the CEO of the West Virginia Health Association, such clauses are common because they help nursing homes avoid expensive lawsuits. 


Justice Menis Ketchum of the court criticized the paperwork that families must fill out in order to enroll their relatives in many nursing homes.  According to the justice, the forms are "fraught" and families and residents may not be equipped to understand the legal consequences of binding arbitration clauses.  "People seek medical care in a nursing home for long-term treatment to heal; they rarely view the admission process as an interstate commercial transaction with far-reaching legal consequences," he commented in his opinion on the case.


The ruling applies specifically to nursing homes, not to all medical malpractice arbitration.