The Florida Supreme Court issued a strong opinion recently in a nursing home injury lawsuit in which the defendant sought to drag the case to arbitration, rather than allow plaintiff the right to have their claim heard in a court-of-law. The court determined the case filed on behalf of a nursing home resident who suffered injuries should not be sent to an arbitrator.
This phenomenon of course has become extremely popular in nursing home injury lawsuits across the country. What’s been happening is nursing homes, as a condition of admission, require residents or their family members to sign arbitration agreements in which they forfeit the right to have any future disputes heard in court. There are many advantages to this for the nursing home. Arbitration is not public, for starters, so nursing homes aren’t risk damaging their reputation. Arbitrators are often on contract with certain companies, and they tend to issue decisions favoring the business that’s driving their income. Even when they do issue damage awards, arbitration damage awards tend to be a lot lower than what is issued by juries. On top of that, arbitrators don’t even technically have to follow the law. There are very few benefits to arbitration for nursing home plaintiffs, which is why so many are battling it out in court, trying to find ways to have their case heard by a judge rather than an arbitrator.
Now comes the case of Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC, which was an appeal from a decision handed down by justices with the Third District Court of Appeal.
According to court records, the Miami-Dade case involved a contract that was signed back in 2009 by plaintiff when his father was admitted to the nursing home. Part of that contract indicated that if there were legal disputes regarding nursing home abuse or negligence, they would be handled by an arbitrator, rather than going to court and possibly being weighed by a jury.
Two years after the father was admitted to the nursing home, he suffered an infection that required the removal of one of his eyes. Later, his son filed a nursing home injury lawsuit against the facility on his father’s behalf. However, the nursing home fired back with a motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiff’s father died in 2013, but the case continued.
A circuit judge and later the 3rd DCA sided with the nursing home, finding the case should go to an arbitrator. However, in a 5-2 decision handed down by the Florida Supreme Court, justices decided the arbitration agreement wasn’t valid because it was signed without the father’s agreement. The court reasoned that it does not enforce contracts when one party only agrees out of duress or threat. By that same logic, it should not enforce a contract that lacks the party’s agreement altogether.
Dissenting opinions from two justices, however, sharply disagreed with this, saying the opinion by the majority “obliterates longstanding Florida contract law.” They indicated that even though the father lacked the capacity to give informed consent and the son did not have power of attorney, he signed the admission agreement as his father’s representative. However, the majority reasoned the father’s mental capacity doesn’t matter in this case. Had the nursing home wanted to do so, it could have petitioned the court for an adjudication to find the father incapacitated and then have the court appoint a representative who then could have signed.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC, Sept. 22, 2016, Florida Supreme Court
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Suing Employer for Driving Negligence of Employee, Sept. 22, 2016, Miami Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog