Three families in West Virginia admitted family members to a nursing home. They signed admission agreements that included mandatory arbitration clauses. The families sued the nursing home after the residents' deaths, claiming negligence on the part of the nursing home. The nursing home's defense was "You can't sue us; you agreed to arbitrate any disputes when you admitted your family member." Although the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the state's public policy prohibited enforcement of pre-injury arbitration agreements to compel arbitration in a negligence dispute.
The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the arbitration agreement. It held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) (9 U.S.C. Sec. 1 and following) pre-empts a state's public policy. That is, every state is governed by the FAA unless its common law (that is, a state's law that is stated by its highest court) has declared mandatory arbitration agreements unenforceable. The case is Marmet Health Care Center v. Brown.
Unfortunately, although Virginia's public policy may be against requiring its citizens to give up their right to sue for claims of personal injury or death when they are admitted to a nursing home, Virginia does not have the kind of specific common law that the Supreme Court ruled could avoid arbitration mandated by the FAA. Before you or your family member sign a nursing home admission agreement, consult an experienced lawyer who represents families in elder neglect and abuse cases.
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