Florida Appellate Court Finds Arbitration Provision in Nursing Home Negligence Dispute Unenforceable

In the recent case of Sovereign Healthcare of Tampa LLC v. The Estate of Otto N. Schmitt, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal was presented with multiple issues regarding the enforceability of an arbitration clause against the estate of a deceased resident. Otto N. Schmitt was a resident and patient at the defendant’s nursing home facility on two separate occasions. The decedent resided at the Bayshore Pointe Nursing & Rehabilitation Center from February 1, 2013, to March 6, 2013. A Resident Admission and Financial Agreement for this stay was signed on February 7, 2013. The decedent did not sign this agreement, however. Instead, his wife, Mrs. Schmitt, executed the agreement. Between September 25, 2013, and October 18, 2013, the decedent resided at the Bayshore facility once more. The Resident Admission and Financial Agreement for this period was dated September 26, 2013.

Shortly following the decedent’s death, his wife, who was acting as the personal representative of his estate, filed a nursing home negligence action against the nursing home. The defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration of the dispute and to stay the litigation against it. Its motion was based on the terms of both Resident Admission and Financial Agreement forms. Regarding the first stay, the defendant claimed that the contract included an arbitration provision. They asserted the same basis for compelling arbitration regarding the decedent’s second tenure at the Bayshore facility.

The lower court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that Mrs. Schmitt lacked authority to sign the agreement on the decedent’s behalf regarding the first stay. As a result of her lack of authority to sign on her husband’s behalf, the lower court concluded that the arbitration agreement was not enforceable against the decedent’s estate. In confirming this ruling, the appellate court cited the 2014 case of Sovereign Healthcare of Tampa, LLC v. Estate of Yarawsky. In this case, the Second District Court of Appeals concluded that an arbitration provision in a resident agreement could not be enforced when a wife signed the agreement on her husband’s behalf only in her capacity as the responsible party and not in a capacity to make legally binding decisions on behalf of her husband.

The appellate court declined to make any ruling regarding the enforceability of the arbitration provision contained in the agreement pertaining to the decedent’s second stay. It concluded that since the lower court expressly declined to decide the issue of whether the decedent’s estate was bound by the arbitration provision in the second agreement, the issue was not squarely before the appellate court.

If you have suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home, or if your loved one has been the victim of abuse, the dedicated, compassionate, and seasoned nursing home negligence lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are prepared to help you seek the compensation and justice that you deserve. Proudly serving clients throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral, we provide a free and confidential consultation to discuss your situation and the options that may be available to your family and you. Call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online today.

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