Legal Considerations in Nursing Home Wrongful Death Settlements

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When abuse or neglect in a care facility leads to a loved one’s death, a wrongful death claim can hold wrongdoers accountable. As litigants, there are important things to know and be aware of as you proceed through the claim. Our nursing home abuse lawyers discuss particular issues and legal considerations in nursing home wrongful death settlements.

5 Things to Know About Nursing Home Wrongful Death Settlements

Here are five important legal considerations in wrongful death settlements:

  1. A settlement is the complete and final resolution of the case

When you agree to a wrongful death settlement, it is the final resolution of the case. It is extremely difficult to change it later. Be sure that you want the judgment as the final resolution of the case.

If there are multiple defendants, the settlement is the resolution for only the defendant who agrees. The case may continue against other parties.

  1. A settlement has the effect of a court judgment

When the defendant agrees to pay a nursing home wrongful death settlement, the agreement has the same force and effect as a jury verdict. Once it is signed by the court, it is binding. The defense should promptly pay. If they do not, you may take measures to enforce the agreement, just like if you had received the judgment at a jury trial.

  1. Offers of the settlement are not admissible to prove liability

The nursing home may make an offer of settlement. You may counter with another offer. Under South Carolina Rules of Evidence Rule 408, settlement offers are not admissible in court as evidence of liability. If you do not reach a settlement, neither party may reference the offers as evidence. The purpose of the rule is to encourage the parties to try and resolve the case.

  1. Arbitration clauses in nursing home misconduct

When someone enters a care facility, it’s common for the facility to have them sign an arbitration clause. It requires the victim to take their complaint to an arbitration panel rather than to a jury if there’s a problem down the road. Of course, nursing homes don’t want their actions scrutinized in court.

However, South Carolina courts have a track record of throwing out arbitration clauses in nursing home care agreements. In Coleman v. Mariner Health Care, Inc., 407 S.C. 346 (2014), the court refused to uphold the arbitration clause in a suit for wrongful death. See also Johnson v Heritage Healthcare of Estill, LLC, 788 S.E.2d 216 (2016), but compare Dean v. Heritage Healthcare of Ridgeway, LLC, 408 S.C. 371 (2014). 

An experienced attorney for nursing home abuse can help you evaluate whether you have an arbitration clause and whether it is enforceable. If necessary, they can help you address any defense motions to remove the claim to arbitration.

  1. Issues of confidentiality and record sealing

It’s common for defendants to want a confidentiality agreement as part of a settlement. However, there are multiple points in South Carolina state and federal law that complicate confidentiality agreements and sealing in nursing home wrongful death claims. 

South Carolina law 15-51-41 requires court approval of wrongful death settlements. In the petition, the parties must state the terms of the settlement. Of course, to decide if a settlement is fair, the court must know its terms.

In Martin v. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., 940 F.Supp.2d 277 (D.S.C. 2013), the defense wanted a settlement amount redacted from public records. The court refused the request. In addition, Local Civil Rules for the U.S. District Court District of South Carolina Rule 5.03(E) states that no settlement agreement filed with the court shall be sealed pursuant to the terms of the rule.

For litigants in nursing home wrongful death claims, it’s important to be on the lookout for proposed confidentiality agreements and settlement sealings. Understand that South Carolina law may prevent confidentiality. Work with your attorney to fully understand whether a confidentiality agreement has been proposed, whether it is enforceable, and what your obligations may be in this regard.

Attorneys for Nursing Home Wrongful Death Settlements

If your loved one has died as the result of wrongdoing in a nursing home, contact our wrongful death attorneys today to talk about your case.

The team at Bobby Jones Law LLC works tirelessly for the injured in South Carolina. His achievements include:
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