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Win: Maryland High Court Says Third Parties Can’t Sign Away Nursing Home Residents’ Right to Go to Court

May 24, 2010

Win: Maryland High Court Says Third Parties Can’t Sign Away Nursing Home Residents’ Right to Go to Court

*Note: Former Public Citizen attorney Leah Nicholls argued this case for appellant Carman Dickerson

If you are admitted to a nursing home and someone else signs the admission forms for you, any clause within those forms that strips you of your right to go to court should not stand.

Public Citizen recently argued that position to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, and in a decision issued today, the court agreed. In Dickerson v. Longoria, the court said that just because third parties have the right to admit someone into a nursing home doesn’t mean they can sign away the right of a nursing home resident to go to court. This decision is a significant step in the fight to curtail the ability of corporations to force binding arbitration on an often unsuspecting public.

The case stemmed from a medical malpractice claim filed in Prince George’s County by the estate of Carter Bradley against Heritage Care, a nursing home company. Heritage maintained that the malpractice case had to be arbitrated because a personal representative of Bradley’s had signed an arbitration agreement when Bradley was admitted to St. Thomas More Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The story highlights a key problem with mandatory binding arbitration: Most people don’t realize they are signing a form agreeing to it. In 2004, when Bradley was admitted, Dickerson signed “a stack” of papers, she told the court. Among those papers was a clause saying that any disputes would be sent to an arbitrator.

Mandatory binding arbitration is increasingly used by companies to evade accountability. Forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of various contracts, and most people don’t know that when they do things such as buy a cell phone, accept a credit card, open a retirement account or sign a home building contract, they are being forced to give up their right to go to court if they are harmed by the company. Instead, people are forced into a system in which the deck is too often stacked against them.

Carter Bradley died from infected bedsore that spread and deteriorated while he was a patient at St. Thomas. His estate now will be able to seek justice in court.

The decision is available at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/74a09_0.pdf.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.