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Do you need a lawyer before signing nursing home documents?

You wouldn't think you need a lawyer just to get admitted to a nursing home or long-term specialized hospital.  But many times these institutions add a waiver of your legal rights to sue to the stack of documents they hand you in the admissions office.  You may given a large stack of what appears to be ordinary admission papers:  Consent for Admission and Treatment, Patient's Rights and Responsibilities, Anatomical Gift by Living Donor, Advance Directives, Notice of Privacy Rights, Designation of Individuals Authorized to Receive Patient Health Information, An Important Message from Medicare, Valuables Statement, Alternative Dispute Resolution.  Oops, what's that?  It might be called an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement or an Arbitration Agreement.  By and large they're lengthy, difficult to understand, small print, and the average person isn't to read and understand what they are signing.  What they are signing, however, is a waiver of all legal rights to sue in a court of law for any claims of medical malpractice that any doctor or nurse may commit upon the patient during their stay.

U.S. Sen Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) have recently introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013 (AFA) [S.878/H.R.1844] to amend the Federal Arbitration Act and fix this problem.  This Act would invalidate any agreement requires you agree to arbitration before you even have a dispute - eg, before anyone has even committed malpractice.

The American Association for Justice is working to push for this legislation to be passed.  Their website:  http://www.takejusticeback.com.node/164# tells the story of Richard.  Richard was in a car accident that left him paralyzed.  His doctors eventually transferred him to a nursing home.  Even though Richard was awake and competent, the nursing home gave his daughter a stack of admission documents to sign.  The stack included an arbitration clause.

Richard's care required that he be moved every few hours to prevent bed sores.  Apparently this wasn't done and Richard developed bed sores so severe he died.  The medical malpractice case filed by this Estate was thrown out of court because there was a signed arbitration agreement. 

You shouldn't need a lawyer to advise you that you may unwittingly be signing away your legal rights.  If you are confronted by something you don't understand, don't sign it.  Get information first.  The web has so much information on it you can google anything.  If you are a proactive person, go to the Take Justice Back website and sign their petition.

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FAQ Medical Malpractice

Frequently Asked Questions about Medical Malpractice

Q: What is medical malpractice?

A: Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a professional health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital worker or hospital, whose treatment of a patient departs from a standard of care met by those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient...

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