RSH Legal Attorneys Make New Law Concerning Arbitration Agreements

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Posted by Tim Semelroth

Image of Arbitration window writing

A frequent tactic by nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is to require patients to sign arbitration agreements – documents preventing patients from suing them in front of a jury, requiring private arbitration instead. The arbitrators tend to be professionals from the industry interested in keeping the facilities happy to secure repeat business. RSH Legal attorneys recently helped to make new law protecting Iowans against this tactic.

Fighting Against Arbitration

Cletus Roth was a 79-year-old man from Ocheyedan, Iowa. In December of 2013, Cletus and his son Michael went to the Good Samaritan facility in George. A number of admission documents were created for Cletus and Michael signed on Cletus’s behalf. Included was an arbitration agreement. Cletus and Good Samaritan were parties to the agreement. Cletus’s children, Michael and Mary, were not. Cletus lived at the facility for three months before dying of an infection resulting from severe pressure ulcers (“bed sores”). His family sued Good Samaritan. A Federal Judge in northwest Iowa was asked to send all of the claims to arbitration. RSH Legal attorneys resisted, stating that Cletus may have agreed to arbitration, but his children did not. Defendants argued the cases could not be separated. The Federal Judge sent the case to the Iowa Supreme Court for clarification on this complicated legal issue.

Arbitration Agreements and the Right to a Jury Trial

Attorney Ben Long drafted the arguments to the Court. On October 21, 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of Michael and Mary Roth. It held that the claims by adult children are closely related to the claims of a parent and typically should be kept together. However, the claims by adult children for the loss of their relationship with their parent are actually owned by the children in their own right. A parent that agrees to arbitration cannot waive the child’s right to a jury trial if the child wants a jury. This law clarifies the nature of claims by children who lose parents and protects the constitutional right to a jury.

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