MN to feds: Nursing homes shouldn't ask families to sign away right to sue

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Minnesota is among more than a dozen states whose top attorneys want the federal government to make it easier to sue a nursing home over allegations of neglect or wrongful death.

Lori Swanson joined attorneys general from 14 other states and the District of Columbia in urging Congress to ban nursing homes from asking families to sign a contract sending any claims to binding arbitration instead of a court.

Congress is considering a rule that would do that and asked states for input. (Read the states' comments here.)

The attorneys say residents of long-term care facilities are hurt by "'take it or leave it' fine print contracts ... in which consumers are required to waive their right to seek judicial resolution."

A report from National Public Radio uses a Minnesota case to illustrate why critics of the status quo are calling for change.

The network relates the case of Virginia Cole, whose husband went into a coma two weeks after he moved into a nursing home. The family's lawyer says Dean Cole was found to have become dehydrated at the nursing home and died within a month.

Three private arbitrators upheld the family's wrongful death claim. But those arbitrators – and attorneys and expert witnesses – charge for their services. After paying those costs, NPR says, the Cole family was left with less then $20,000 from their winning case.

Separate contracts in Minnesota

The CEO and president of Care Providers of Minnesota, Patti Cullen, tells Forum News Service that in Minnesota arbitration agreements are not part of admission to a nursing home, but are presented as a separate contract.

Cullen tells Forum News her group has urged Congress to leave the rules as they are, saying "It is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist."

But Swanson says even though the agreement is presented separately, she hears from many consumers who don't realize they've signed away their right to sue.

Noting that family members admitting a loved one to long-term care are often going through a trauma, Swanson told MPR News: "It's not the type of situation where people are in a great capacity to say, 'Gee, I noticed here on page 32 this clause.'"

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