In NC Leasing LLC v. Junker, a state high court ruled it was erroneous in a nursing home negligence case to deny a motion to compel arbitration simply on the basis of forum unavailability. Instead, the trial court should have held a hearing to determine the agreement’s validity. The case was remanded to trial court to do just that.
This is one of a growing number of cases involving nursing home patients, their loved ones and arbitration agreements, which have become increasingly common in the nursing home admission process.
These agreements deprive residents of the right to bring action in a court of law, and instead route them to a forum of binding arbitration, which is generally confidential and often less favorable to plaintiffs. New nursing home residents or their loved ones often sign these agreements in the stack of admission documents, not quite realizing what they are signing. But the effect on their ability to seek compensation in the event of negligence, neglect or abuse is substantial.
Nursing home arbitration agreements can be deemed unenforceable for several reasons. Most often, it arises because the person who signed the agreement either did not have the mental capacity to do so or was unauthorized to sign such an agreement on the patient’s behalf. In other cases, these agreements are deemed unenforceable because they are unconscionable, or inherently unfair.
In this case, however, plaintiff asserted it was not enforceable because the agreement spelled out that any arbitration should be handled under the provisions set forth by the American Arbitration Association. However, the AAA now holds its own arbitrators do not oversee cases involving health care disputes. Plaintiff argued that for this reason, there was not arbitrator available and therefore no applicable forum.
Defendants, on the other hand, argued the agreement didn’t require an arbitrator specifically from the AAA to handle the case. Rather, any unbiased arbitrator could handle the case. Further, plaintiff did not even attempt to negotiate on a suitable arbitrator, and therefore, the court should compel her to do so.
Trial court sided with plaintiff, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded.
The dispute giving rise to this case began the same day patient was admitted.
According to court records, plaintiff underwent a total knee replacement in the fall of 201o. She was then transported by ambulance from the hospital to a local nursing home for rehabilitation. Upon her arrival, plaintiff’s daughter signed the admission agreement on behalf of her mother, and contained therein was an arbitration agreement.
An aide was assigned to place plaintiff in her room. However, the aide apparently failed to lock the bed in place after it had been moved. As plaintiff stood up and leaned on the bed, it slid out from underneath her, and she suffered injuries as a result of the fall.
Nursing home falls in Orlando are unfortunately quite common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every year, a typical nursing home with 100 beds reports 100 to 200 falls annually. These are only the cases that are reported. The actual number is believed to be much higher. An estimated 1,800 people living in nursing homes die from falls every year.
In this case, plaintiff did not raise the issue of daughter’s authority to sign the arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother. This may well be a critical issue for the plaintiff on remand because if the daughter lacked the legal authority to sign that agreement, it may be deemed unenforceable.
Most relatives cannot sign such binding agreements on behalf of their loved ones unless they have been deemed medically incompetent to handle their own affairs and the individual signing has been granted legal authority over patient’s health care decisions.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
NC Leasing LLC v. Junker, Aug. 13, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
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Nursing Home Neglect at 14 Facilities Prompts PA AG Lawsuit, Aug. 10, 2015, Orlando Nursing Home Injury Lawyer Blog