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Laizure v. Avante at Leesburg – Forcing Victims of Nursing Home Negligence to Arbitrate

In Laizure v. Avante at Leesburg, et al., the Florida Supreme Court has held that nursing home patients and their families are bound by arbitration agreements signed in valid contracts – even in cases where a family member plaintiff, who never signed the agreement, wants to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on the basis of negligence.

Our Stuart nursing home abuse attorneys are troubled by this for a number of reasons. To begin, arbitration (as opposed to litigation) tends to be more beneficial to the defense because the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. Secondly, arbitrators aren’t necessarily bound by the law. Their decisions are, well, arbitrary. And finally, every bit of evidence is admissible in arbitration. In litigation, meanwhile, the defense has major obstacles to overcome in terms of proving their case. For example, rather than paying thousands of dollars for a medical witness to testify on their behalf, the defendant can simply hand over a peer review report, and that can suffice.

Our concern is that with the state supreme court backing the nursing home in this instance, many more nursing homes are going to compel new residents and their families to sign arbitration agreements in an effort to cover themselves if they are later found to be negligent or abusive.

You should not sign one of these agreements without first having it reviewed by an experienced nursing home abuse attorney.

According to court documents, here’s what happened in this case:

An older male patient was admitted to Advante back in the spring of 2006 after he underwent rehabilitation surgery. The day after he was admitted, he reportedly signed an arbitration agreement, probably not understanding the full implications of his signature. We don’t know the exact details of what happened after that, except that he died a few days later. We also know that his family members claim his rights under the Florida Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Act were violated. A representative of his estate subsequently filed a wrongful death suit against the nursing home.

However, the nursing home fought back, arguing that the estate was bound to arbitrate rather than litigate, based on an arbitration agreement signed by the patient upon his admittance. The estate countered that the arbitration agreement didn’t encompass the wrongful death claim because that claim was filed by independent parties, i.e., the patient’s survivors, who did not sign that agreement.

The binding nature of the arbitration agreement was upheld by the trial court as well as the Fifth District Court of Appeals, but the latter then certified the question of whether the case had to be arbitrated or whether it could be litigated to the Florida Supreme Court.

The high court noted that the question before it was not an issue of the quality of care or whether in fact the nursing home actually was negligent. Rather, the issue pertained to Florida law relative to wrongful death cases.

The court reasoned that because parties in personal injury lawsuits – including a decedent’s estate and heirs – are bound by arbitration agreements, so too are the parties in a wrongful death case.

While our Stuart nursing home abuse lawyers are disappointed by this ruling, we remain nonetheless committed to aggressively fighting to protect your rights, interests and entitlement to compensation.

Call Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Laizure v. Avante at Leesburg, et al., Feb. 14, 2013, Supreme Court of Florida

Fla. SC holds in nursing home arbitration case, Feb. 25, 2013, By Nathan Bass, Legal Newsline

More Blog Entries:
South Florida Nursing Home Flu Outbreaks Reported, Feb. 4, 2013, Stuart Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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