September 24, 2010
ATLANTA -- Clair Bryan, a second-year student at Georgia State University College of Law, recently placed first in a writing competition sponsored by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). Her paper, "Behind Closed Doors: The Use of Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements in Nursing Home Admission Contracts." will be published in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Student Journal.
Bryan wrote her paper, which focuses on pre-dispute arbitration agreements in nursing home admission contracts and her argument that the use of these agreements should be disallowed, for Professor Mary Radford’s Law and the Elderly class.
"The reasons I present are rooted in different areas of the law," Bryan said. "I argue that the use of arbitration in this setting is an expansion of the original intent of the Federal Arbitration Act. These agreements effectively act as a shield and a disincentive for Nursing Homes to maintain a certain level of care and staff because, unlike civil cases for negligence or wrongful death, arbitration decisions are private; the arbitration agreements can also cap damage awards to plaintiffs, which again does not encourage the facility to improve conditions as it is cheaper to pay the damages and move on.
"Since these agreements are often mandatory for admission they should be ruled unconscionable because they are signed by people entering a facility who are sick and are often incapable of understanding what they are signing, and because often there are no other options."
NAELA’s annual student writing competition is open to all full-time or part-time law students. Typically, Georgia State Law students who submit papers have been enrolled either in the Law and the Elderly class or the Estate Planning seminar.
Bryan joins the ranks of other Georgia State students to place in the competition. Last year, Paul Black placed fourth in the competition with his paper "In the House of the Rising Debt: Reverse Mortgages and the Challenges of the Current Financial Crisis," In 2006, Shilpa Gokare received second place in the competition for her paper entitled, "Are Nursing Homes Nursing the Needs of the Indian American Immigrants? (With a Special Focus on Hindu Immigrants)."
Bryan began toying with the idea of a legal education after her father was knowingly exposed to asbestos by his employer. Though he received a small settlement the amount was not sufficient to the company knowingly and willingly placing their employees in danger. Bryan said she came to law school " because she wanted to be in a position to help other people who find themselves in difficult situations" and she wants "to make an impact by helping people who are underrepresented."
Bryan’s passion for Elder Law stems from personal outrage that developed from a research project she undertook while at John Marshall College of Law. After reading cases upon cases describing horrific condition and patient abuse, Bryan developed an intense interest in the quality of long term care facilities. The aging population creates "a huge population of individuals with some unique and specific legal needs that will need to be met," Bryan said.
Bryan has utilized many opportunities to increase her knowledge through course work at Georgia State, through Professor Radford’s Elder Law course and her Wills course. Bryan is currently interning in the Dekalb County District Attorney’s office in the White Collar Crime unit on a special project to prosecute people who exploit the elderly and she has previously worked with Atlanta Legal Aid on the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline.
"I am grateful that I’ve had so many positive professors and mentors to help guide me in my career path towards elder law," Bryan said. "I feel like winning the competition is affirmation that I’m doing good work and bringing attention to areas of the law that need it."
By Cindi Yarbrough