The American Association for Justice, which lobbies on behalf of plaintiffs lawyers, won a small victory last month in the long war over mandatory arbitration. Congress banned defense contractors from including in their employment contracts any provisions that require arbitration — clearing the way for more employment disputes to be taken to court.
Today, the group's top lobbyist said it's time to do the same for contracts between nursing homes and patients.
Linda Lipsen, the executive vice president for public affairs, was speaking at the American Association for Justice’s headquarters about its 2010 agenda in Congress. Asked whether it plans to fight mandatory arbitration broadly or industry-by-industry, Lipsen said the group wants Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009 this year. The act would ban mandatory arbitration in all consumer and employment disputes. But Lipsen quickly singled out the nursing home industry as the likely centerpiece of the group’s push.
“When you bring your mother to the only nursing home in your area, and you’re looking at a 500-page document… you’re going to sign whatever it is you have to sign to get your mother into that home,” Lipsen said.
Bills to prohibit such provisions in nursing home contracts have been introduced in the House and Senate. They did not receive votes in 2009.
The change for defense contractors got traction in the fall when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) highlighted the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a former employee of defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root who reported being raped by her coworkers in Iraq. Nursing homes, Lipsen said, invoke similarly strong emotions. “There are a lot of stories connected to forced arbitration similar to the Jamie Leigh Jones story,” she said.
Also at the top of the plaintiffs bar’s legislative agenda is opening up state courts to torts over medical devices and reversing two U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2007 that have changed the standard for filing most civil lawsuits. Democrats have held hearings on both those issues.