New Jersey Judge Says Residents Cannot Sue Assisted Living Facilities

Trenton, NJ- A U.S. District court Judge ruled residents of assisted living facilities, who suffer personal injuries as a result of alleged abuse or neglected, cannot sue the facility under the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities & Rights Act (NHRRRA).

Judge Senior District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise reversed an earlier judgment in the case of Andreyko v. Sunrise Senior Living Inc. in which he initially sided with the plaintiff.

Helena Andreyko, the plaintiff in the case, alleged that her mother, who suffered from dementia, was abused and neglected by staff at the Sunrise facility in Edgewater. Andreyko’s complaint insisted the facility was liable for the injuries her mother suffered regardless of “whether Paulina was the victim of abuse and neglect or whether Sunrise failed to provide the staffing levels necessary to ensure it met its contractual obligations,” Senior Housing News reported.

Sunrise responded to Andreyko’s complaint by filing a motion to dismiss the breach of contract complaint and the statutory violation complaint which claimed the Sunrise facility violated NHRRRA.

The court originally denied the Sunrise’s request to dismiss the statutory violation, but later determined assisted living facilities were not covered under the NHRRRA.  Judge Debevoise stated in his latest ruling that assisted-living facilities have different “licensing, standards and regulations.”

“Assisted-living residents are not afforded a cause of action within the Nursing Home Responsibilities & Rights of Residents Act outside of the arbitration context,” the ruling noted.

Judge Debevoise said because long-term care facilities and nursing home have different regulatory and licensing standards, the NHRRRA cannot be applied in Andreyko’s case, but did advocate for a separate law which would cover the rights of residents in assisted –living centers.

“Considering the vulnerability of this population, there is little reason to distinguish these groups by enabling only one with an enforcement mechanism to realize its rights,” he wrote.

Arbitration does not mean that a resident of assisted-living facility does not have course of action they can take in the event of abuse or neglect. Instead residents must enter into private negotiations with the facility in order to come to settlement terms. Am arbitration agreement bars a victim from  pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit through the civil court system.

The only problem with arbitration is that the monetary awards of often much smaller or not awarded at all. (Settlements from civil court litigation tend to be larger than settlements resulting from arbitration.) An NBC News analysis of 1, 5000 nursing home arbitration agreements and between 2003 and 2011 found that 30 percent of cases in arbitration were resolved with no financial settlement. Arbitration agreements benefit the facilities more than residents.

Many nursing homes and other long-term care facilities often require residents and their families to sign arbitration agreements before they enter the facility. If you are asked to sign one of these agreements you can refuse since they are not required by law. By signing an arbitration agreement you are signing away your right to hold a facility financially accountable in civil court if your loved one is abused or neglected.