"A Jury Would Not Have Let This Happen" | Take Justice Back

"A Jury Would Not Have Let This Happen"

Roberta Powers, 83, suffered from dementia and diabetes and was living in a nursing home to receive the everyday care she needed. When Roberta checked into the nursing home, a family member signed the admissions forms – one of which included a forced arbitration clause.

Roberta led an active and social life, going to church often with her daughter Rochelle and attending family events. One weekend, Roberta was supposed to attend her granddaughter’s birthday party in Atlanta, however, when Rochelle visited Roberta shortly before the weekend, she found her mother to be vomiting and sick with abdominal pain. Rochelle found a number of pills on her bedside table and immediately alerted nursing staff.

Two days later, Roberta’s son Larry, came to check on his mother only to find that her condition had significantly worsened. She was almost unresponsive – suffering from acute altered mental status, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. Larry called 911 and Roberta was taken to the emergency room. Roberta died that same day from metformin associated lactic acidosis.

An autopsy performed on Roberta revealed that her blood contained more than 20 times the prescribed dosage of medication she was being given for her diabetes.

Nursing homes have a responsibility to supervise the administration of medications to all resident, particularly dementia patients since they are prone to forgetting to take them or left to their own devices, will take the wrong amount. Larry and Rochelle sought to hold the nursing home accountable for the death of their mother. Their attorney, Perry Shuttlesworth, explains how the complete failure of the nursing home to properly administer Roberta’s medication and failure to send her to a doctor when she became sicker and sicker, resulted in her death.

Roberta’s family and attorney tried to take the nursing home to court, but they were forced out of court and into arbitration – all because of the forced arbitration clause in the admissions documents. Arbitration proceedings are not governed by the same rules as in a court proceeding, which are designed to ensure fairness and due process. Instead, arbitration is a secretive and often unfair proceeding that allows the nursing home to be shielded from public scrutiny.

The arbitrator let the nursing home get away with its actions, and with no right of appeal in arbitration, Roberta’s family was denied justice. As Shuttlesworth says, “It was only because of the forced arbitration clause that the nursing home got away with this. A jury would not have let this happen.”

See her story within the New York Times article "In Arbitration, a Privatization of the Justice System".