Florida nursing home arbitration agreements have become increasingly the norm for most for-profit centers that care for the aging, making them a central point of contention in many nursing home injury and wrongful death lawsuits. The law is not exactly settled, but a few Florida Supreme Court decisions in recent years have provided guidance upon which many Palm Beach injury lawyers have relied in determining whether it’s worth fighting to invalidate an arbitration agreement or instead work within that system.
Arbitration agreements fall under contract law, which as long as both parties are able, willing and not coerced or defrauded, have almost always been ruled valid. However in recent years, Palm Beach injury attorneys have noted a number of reasons Florida nursing home arbitration agreements are problematic. Among those:
- Residents must choose between their legal rights and proper care.
- Residents may not always be fully aware of what they are signing or the fact that the arbitration process usually favors nursing homes.
- Arbitration allows nursing homes to keep shameful acts and incidents out of the public eye.
- Discovering the outcome of an arbitration is tough if not impossible, as they are confidential and no database stores them.
In general, our Palm Beach nursing home injury and wrongful death lawyers don’t recommend signing an arbitration agreement if it can be avoided. If a client has one in place in a nursing home abuse case, we’ll generally explore our options to determine if there is a way to invalidate that agreement.
Florida Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements and State Courts
Several recent cases at the Florida courts have dealt with the issue of nursing home arbitration.
The first of those was Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC by the Florida Supreme Court in 2016. Here, a man signed an arbitration agreement when he admitted his father to the nursing home, but later when his father died, the man sued the nursing home for negligence on behalf of his father’s estate. Defendant nursing home argued the estate was bound by the arbitration agreement as a third-party beneficiary to the agreement between the son and the nursing home. Critical to this was the doctrine of third-party beneficiaries relevant here is that two parties can’t bind a third – without agreement by the third – just by conferring a benefit to him or her. However, the estate didn’t sue for breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary. Rather, it sued for negligence. Under those circumstances, the contract couldn’t bind the estate – and that case didn’t need to be arbitrated according to the Florida nursing home arbitration agreement.
Another of those was the 2017 case of Moen v. Bradenton Council on Aging, before Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, which expanded on the issue by considering whether a daughter who had signed her mother’s admission papers as her mom’s health care proxy (based on her mother’s incompetence) could bind her mother to an arbitration agreement in those admissions documents. The court ruled the daughter couldn’t bind her mother to an arbitration agreement because firstly, the health care proxy allowed her daughter to make health care decisions; the decision to arbitrate is not a health care decision. Further, the daughter signed the document in her own capacity, not as a proxy. Finally, applying Mendez, the estate didn’t invoke third-party beneficiary status under the contract, so it wasn’t compelled to arbitrate.
Most recently, there was the case of Gaeta v. Seaside Manor before Florida’s 5th DCA earlier this year. Plaintiff was a widow whose husband died in the nursing home. Prior to his admission, plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement. After her husband’s death, plaintiff filed a claim in court seeking to sever a number of claims from the agreement on the basis that they were against public policy. Although the nursing home wouldn’t respond to the specifics of the public policy allegations, it did say the arbitrator should be the one to decide their validity. The 5th DCA disagreed.
The bottom line is the mere fact of a Florida nursing home arbitration agreement doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss the case with a West Palm Beach nursing home abuse lawyer. There is a good chance it could be well worth fighting.
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.
Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC , Sept. 22, 2018, Florida Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Choosing a Nursing Home in Fort Lauderdale? Consider the Smoking Policy, Nov. 7, 2018, Florida Nursing Home Arbitration Attorney Blog