Attorney General Mayes Sues to Invalidate More Secrecy Clauses in Long-Term Care Facilities

PHOENIX – Attorney General Kris Mayes today sued to invalidate a secrecy clause imposed on the family of a man who died from neglect in a long-term care facility. The secrecy clause violates Arizona law, which requires notice to the Attorney General when a case involves abuse, neglect, or exploitation of vulnerable adults.

“Secrecy clauses like those imposed on this victim’s family are not only illegal, but they also block me from doing my job of protecting vulnerable adults,” said Attorney General Mayes. “The court should invalidate the secrecy clause in this case and others that are illegally concealing instances of abuse and neglect from the public.”

Robert Knight was admitted to the Sun West Choice Health & Rehab facility in July 2019.  Mr. Knight was married with two children, tragically suffering from dementia and other conditions. Even though he was only 58 years old, he was essentially immobile.

Bedbound patients like Mr. Knight are among Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens, requiring the highest levels of care. Patients like Mr. Knight need to be turned in their beds every two hours to avoid pressure sores, and those adjustments should be recorded in the patient’s care records. The lawsuit alleges hundreds of instances when Mr. Knight should have been turned but were not recorded.

In March 2022, Mr. Knight was found face-down on the floor of his room with a bleeding nose. Mr. Knight was also suffering from a massive bed sore measuring 4 by 6 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep.  A few days later, Mr. Knight passed away. The autopsy revealed Mr. Knight’s cause of death was bacterial pneumonia and a rare bone infection caused by the bed sore.

Mr. Knight’s spouse, Wendy Knight, filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her children against Sun West Choice alleging abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult. Sun West Choice asked the court to enforce an arbitration agreement signed by Ms. Knight when she moved Mr. Knight into the facility. This arbitration agreement has a secrecy clause so expansive, the Knight family was not even allowed to reveal “the existence and subject of the arbitration.”

However, that is illegal. The legislature passed the Adult Protective Services Act to protect vulnerable adults by increasing transparency and enhancing both the powers and duties of the Attorney General. 

“When families are forced to keep silent about abuse and neglect because of illegal arbitration agreements, the system cannot work as intended,” said Attorney General Mayes.  “Any arbitration agreement that blocks victims from reporting their claims to the Attorney General violates Arizona law and cannot be enforced.”

The Attorney General’s lawsuit is not just about the Knight family.  Defendant, The Ensign Group, Inc. operates dozens of facilities in Arizona with more than 5,000 total beds. In addition to the secrecy clause in the Knight case, Attorney General Mayes also asked the court to invalidate the secret arbitrations for every patient in every facility operated by The Ensign Group, Inc.
This is the second time in recent months that Attorney General Mayes has intervened in a lawsuit to get rid of a secrecy clause. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office will continue to sue to invalidate such clauses as many times as it takes to ensure care facilities stop presenting these illegal secret arbitration agreements to stressed-out families as part of the admissions paperwork. 

“Keeping abuse and neglect secret is not just illegal, it’s wrong,” continued Attorney General Mayes. “The Legislature banned these secrecy clauses decades ago, but for decades facilities have been using them anyway. I intend to put a stop to it and carry out the legislative intent of transparency in the care of vulnerable adults.”

The case Attorney General Mayes is seeking to intervene in is Knight v. Sunwest Choice Health and Rehab, et al., Maricopa County Superior Court number CV2024-007103. The case is being handled for the Attorney General's Office by Assistant Attorney General Shane Ham. The filings are available below.

*A previous version of this release incorrectly indicated Mr. Knight was a veteran. A previous version also used an incorrect last name for Mr. Knight's spouse, Wendy. Her correct last name is Knight.