Closing arguments in a wrongful death suit brought by the family of a former resident against Emeritus Corporation began yesterday in California, the Sacramento Bee reports. The trial will take place in two parts: in the first part the jury will decide on the role Emeritus played in the woman’s death, the second part will decide punitive damages only if the company is found guilty.
A jury trial like the one above weighs heavily on the minds of executives in the senior housing industry. It is one of the worst things that could happen as it attracts bad publicity and reinforces the stereotypes many far removed from senior housing have about assisted living. Juries are often swayed by emotions and the frail and elderly will naturally evoke sympathy. Presenting the nuances of pressure ulcers, Alzheimer’s and other health issues to 9 or 12 jurors is risky; many will not understand the explanations and remain silent. They will then deliberate on a verdict with incomplete knowledge.
Arbitration is a much preferred method for resolving conflicts in assisted living. Most communities today include arbitration agreements in their contracts; something the prospective resident can take home and study before signing a lease. The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) encourages all of its members to use consumer friendly language when explaining the agreement to potential residents. This is important because the trial lawyers who push hardest for laws repealing arbitration agreements for senior housing (e.g. H.R.1873) claim the providers prey on the ignorance or duress of the client .