Empty room with a high ceiling and large barred windows

Alabama nursing home robbed 87-year-old nun of justice in abuse case

For more than six decades, Sister Irene Morissette said that she honored her vow of chastity, according to TIME. She attempted to explain to police that what she was saving for God was stolen from her the night she was raped at Chateau Vestavia, an assisted-living facility near Birmingham, Alabama.

Yet, when the 87-year-old nun spoke out about the crime, Chateau Vestavia used its resources to deny Morissette justice. The facility was successful in its efforts because of the arbitration clause Morissette signed as part of her admissions contract.

The nursing home industry has dug its heels in on arbitration agreements. Apparently for good reason, since nursing home disputes are settled at much lower amounts through the arbitration process. However, consumers are forced to surrender their constitutional right to a trial by jury with no real benefit in return. Often, consumers aren’t clear about what they have signed and sometimes don’t even realize they have signed an arbitration agreement.

Morissette’s family experienced first-hand the appalling nature of forced arbitration agreements. After learning of Morissette’s claims that she was raped, her family tried to file a lawsuit. They quickly learned that the arbitration agreement contractually barred legal claims from going through the courts, regardless of the despicable nature of the allegations.

For a week and a half, the family sat with Chateau Vestavia representatives before an arbitrator in a small hotel conference room. Morissette’s family members were subjected to defense witnesses offering nothing more than rumors and speculation that Morissette’s injuries were self-inflicted, as their attorney explained. Such hearsay would not be allowed in a court of law.

Additionally, while a sexual assault examiner at a local hospital determined Morissette’s injuries were consistent with rape, defense witnesses who did not examine Morissette refuted the determination. Further, when asked to preserve surveillance footage from the night of the alleged rape, the facility refused and allowed its system to delete the footage. That alone would have likely raised red flags for jurors, but arbitrators are significantly different from a judge or jury.

What many consumers may not realize is that arbitrators are typically selected from a shortlist by location. They may often be paid to hear claims regarding the same defendants in a certain area. The system can create a conflict of interest, Public Justice executive director Paul Bland explained, because it gives arbitrators an incentive to find favorably for potential repeat clients.

At the end of Morissette’s proceeding, her family was not only denied justice but was left holding a $3,000 bill for the hotel conference room – one last assault on Morissette’s already shredded dignity. Morissette is not alone in waiving a constitutional right. TIME reports that “[m]ore than a million other elderly Americans have waived away their rights in the same way Morissette did.”

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If you need more information on nursing home litigation, contact Alyssa Baskam at 800-898-2034. Alyssa handles nursing home litigation for our firm, and she will be glad to talk with you.

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