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In 2012, West Virginia nursing homes were in the news when the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that their arbitration agreements were invalid in cases involving personal injury or wrongful death. This decision was then overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court that stated the arbitration agreements are indeed binding, and that those who signed them could be denied their right to a trial by a judge or jury.

However, the West Virginia Supreme Court has again ruled against these arbitration agreements, this time in a wrongful death case. According to the West Virginia Record, a woman suffering from dementia was unable to make health decisions for herself, so a doctor appointed the woman’s daughter as her “health care surrogate.” This gave the daughter the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of her incapacitated mother. Shortly after, the mother moved into a West Virginia nursing home that requires all residents to sign an arbitration agreement. The daughter signed the agreement, most likely as part of a large stack of documents put before her at the nursing home.

While living at the home, the woman allegedly suffered from numerous types of common nursing home neglect – dehydration, bedsores, malnutrition, and other injuries. When she passed away after living at the nursing home for 10 months, another one of her daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming the nursing home neglect contributed towards her death.

The nursing home tried to avoid being taken to court by saying the estate wasn’t entitled to a trial by a judge or jury because of the arbitration agreement signed by the victim’s daughter. Initially the lower court agreed with the nursing home. But the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the arbitration agreement was not binding because the daughter who signed it only had the authority to make decisions on medical issues, and a nursing home arbitration agreement does constitute a medical issue.

While only a small, and perhaps temporary, victory for those victims of nursing home neglect and abuse, it at least gives others hope that these arbitration agreements will not keep them from pursuing their day in court. Our Virginia nursing home law firm has published several articles on this subject, and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.

About the Editors: Our personal injury law firm has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC). The attorneys with the firm publish and edit articles on three Legal Examiner sites for the geographic areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Northeast North Carolina as a pro bono service to the general public.


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