Arbitration in Nursing Home Cases: An Empirical Study and Critique of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion
Atlanta's John Marshall Law School
August 10, 2011
The use of pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements has been commonplace in variety of commercial contexts, such as brokerage agreements, insurance contracts and credit card contracts for many years. Health care had historically been one of the fields that had not embraced pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements. The reluctance to use pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements appears to be changing in at least one sector of the health care field. An examination of admission contracts used by North Carolina nursing homes and telephone survey of North Carolina nursing homes revealed that 43 percent of nursing homes now incorporate pre-dispute binding arbitration provisions into their admission contracts. All of the major nursing home chains operating in North Carolina use pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements in at least some of their facilities, while smaller operators use them sporadically.
The terms of these agreements vary considerably. The large chains tend to incorporate some of the provisions in the model arbitration agreement drafted by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the nursing home industry trade organization. AHCA’s model language includes a 30-day rescission period and language that acceptance of the arbitration provision is not a precondition to admission. Some of the large chain facilities also include a provision that the arbitration will be conducted at the facility if the parties can’t agree on another location. Some of the smaller operators include provisions that limit damages and discovery, prohibit punitive damages, and expressly condition entry to the facility on signing the pre-dispute arbitration agreement.
The implications of the rising use of pre-dispute binding arbitration clauses may be significant. There are many counties in North Carolina where 50-100 percent of all of the nursing home operators use these agreements. With so many operators selecting pre-dispute binding arbitration, this may have the effect of forcing some vulnerable elders out of the public court system with all of its safeguards, and into private arbitration without those protections.
Although some of these agreements contain language stating that the agreement is voluntary or may rescinded, this language, by itself, provides no guaranteed protection that facilities are enforcing the contracts as written. This study found incidents where nursing homes were requiring new residents to sign pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements as a condition of admission, even though the language in those facilities’ agreements stated that signing the agreement was voluntary. This study also found evidence of a significant amount of confusion among staff of nursing homes using these agreements about whether their facilities were using them at all and what arbitration agreements really meant.
This paper also includes an analysis of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and concludes that Justice Thomas's concurrence is so contrary to the putative majority opinion that Concepcion may be viewed as a plurality decision without any binding precedential effect concerning the law of unconscionability outside the Discover Bank/class action context.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: Arbitration, Concepcion, Empirical, ADR, Elder Law
Date posted: July 14, 2011 ; Last revised: August 19, 2011