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Arbitration Agreements: What Could They Mean for You and Your Elderly Loved Ones?

Paperwork seems to be a part of life. And because of the copious amounts that we often deal with at work in our daily lives, we tend to rarely read everything. Unfortunately, this means that we may overlook an important document - a document that could make a significant difference.

One such document is an arbitration agreement. And in nursing home admission papers, it is often buried and rarely reviewed. Arbitration agreements are usually a single piece of paper that basically state that if there is a problem that cannot be amicably resolved, then you agree to bring the dispute to a professional arbitrator instead of taking the matter to court via a lawsuit for nursing home negligence, injury or even wrongful death. It may sound reasonable, but it is not always in the favor of the patient and the family.

In fact, that "simple" document often shifts the power from an injured nursing home patient and his family to the nursing home administration. Not only can arbitration be expensive (the cost of the arbitrator as well as an attorney), but when it does result in a settlement award, it is often less than it would be if the case had gone to court.

A consulting firm analyzed more than 1,400 claims with long-term care providers - such as nursing homes - from 2003 to 2011. The firm found that no damages were awarded in 30 percent of the cases where arbitration agreements existed, and in only 19 percent of the cases without arbitration agreements.

Now, that is not to say that arbitration agreements are without their benefits. In most cases, it means that claims are more quickly resolved and attorney fees are often lower, so it does mean that patients and their families may retain more of the settlement money and see it faster. As with anything, the benefits of entering into an arbitration agreement has to be weighed with the negatives.

And as the baby boomers continue to age, it is expected that the cost of caring for the elderly and liability costs in nursing homes will increase - and arbitration agreements will become even more common.

So what should you do? If you are putting a loved one in a nursing home or entering on yourself, be sure to carefully review all of the documents that are put before you. And if you find yourself facing arbitration that you don't recall agreeing to, seek advice from an experienced attorney - because arbitration agreements are not always enforceable and you may have other options.

Source: Kaiser Health News,"Often Overlooked In Nursing Home Admission Paperwork Is An Arbitration Agreement," 9/17/12.

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