More and more, people are learning that nursing homes are exploiting elderly residents and their loved ones through the process of forced arbitration clauses. Basically, these agreements require residents or their loved ones to sign away their right to sue in the event of negligent caregiving.
Instead, the only avenue most people have is through a privatized arbitration forum. Too often, these processes are biased and usually result in lesser awards for victims.
Although many long-term care facilities don’t actually require patients to sign these agreements as a term of admission, they won’t disclose this to patients either. And some places actually do require it, leaving family to wrestle with the impossible choice of signing away important rights or placing their loved one in a less desired facility or one farther away from family.
But even in cases where patients or relatives have signed a nursing home arbitration agreement, it doesn’t necessarily mean the courts will uphold it. Although such agreements are considered binding contracts, a number of factors will be considered in weighing whether the agreement is valid. Those factors may include the state of mind of the patient, the authority of the relative to sign the document on behalf of the patient and whether the agreement is ambiguous.
In the recent case of Voorhees Road LLC et al. v. Mallard, before the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal, is whether the arbitration agreement signed by the now-deceased patient is valid to compel arbitration, or whether the lawsuit, brought by her son, may proceed to trial in a court of law.
According to court records, there were actually a number of arbitration agreements at issue. When decedent was first admitted to the home in the spring of 2009, she personally signed an arbitration agreement. Several months later, she was hospitalized and, upon her readmission, she again signed another document in which she agreed to abide by all terms, conditions and signed documents contained in her original admission package.
Within a month, she was again hospitalized and then again returned to the nursing home. On this occasion, a second re-admission agreement with language exactly the same as the first was signed by patient’s son.
But the issue is that the son did no have power of attorney over his mother’s affairs, nor did he have any other legal authority to act on his mother’s behalf.
The allegations in the complaint pertain only to alleged incidents that occurred after her second re-admission until the date of her death later that fall.
In weighing a motion to compel arbitration, the trial court looked solely at the second readmission agreement and found that, because the son was not legally allowed to sign those documents on behalf of his mother, the agreement was invalid and thus, the case would not be arbitrated.
But on appeal, defendant nursing home noted that the original agreement pertained to its performance in each subsequent readmission. Express language in that agreement indicated there was no need for renewal of it, but the nursing home nonetheless requested additional paperwork be signed anyway as a precaution.
The 2nd DCA noted the original arbitration agreement clearly indicated it covered re-admissions.
Therefore, the appellate court reversed and remanded, with orders to the trial court to weigh the validity of the original arbitration agreement, rather than the readmission agreement.
That doesn’t mean that agreement will be found valid, or even if it is, that the nursing home will prevail on the underlying claim. Plaintiffs have succeeded through arbitration too, though it is still preferable to have such matters litigated in court.
Anyone with questions regarding this process should contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney right away.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Voorhees Road LLC et al. v. Mallard, April 24, 2015, Florida Second District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Report: State Nursing Homes Blamed for Fatal Abuse, Neglect, Negligence, April 22, 2015, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog