Florida Appellate Court Holds Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable Against Resident in Negligence Action

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently handed down an opinion agreeing with other appellate authority in the state that a resident of a nursing home is not bound by an arbitration agreement executed by the resident’s family member at the time of the resident’s admission to the facility. In Sovereign Healthcare of Tampa v. Estate of Yarawsky, 2D13-2083, an elderly nursing home resident had lived at the plaintiff’s facility for 10 months prior to his death. Following his death, the decedent’s estate filed a lawsuit against the nursing home, alleging that the decedent died due to the nursing home’s negligence. Shortly thereafter, the nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration on the basis that the resident admission forms and financial agreement executed at the time of the decedent’s admission contained an arbitration agreement.

The trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home company, compelling the parties to arbitrate their dispute. The decedent’s estate filed a motion for reconsideration of the order on the basis of the arbitrator that the nursing home selected to preside over the proceeding. While the nursing home’s motion for reconsideration was pending, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals entered an opinion in a case involving similar circumstances, Perry ex rel. Perry v. Sovereign Healthcare of Metro W., 100 So. 3d 146 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012).

In Perry, the Fifth District concluded that the arbitration clause was not enforceable against the daughter of an individual who passed away during residency with the nursing home facility. The admission paperwork omitted any references to the resident, and the area where the daughter could have indicated her authority to execute agreements on behalf of the resident was left blank. Additionally, “there was ‘no evidence [that the resident] was incapable of singing the agreement on her own behalf’ and even if the daughter had signed on the mother’s behalf, there was ‘absolutely no evidence that [the daughter] had the authority to bind [the resident] to the arbitration agreement.” The court reasoned that an agreement could not be enforced against an individual who was not a party to the agreement, and who was not bound to its terms by a representative.

On this basis, the decedent’s estate argued that the decedent did not execute the admission paperwork as the responsible party, and that the individual who signed the agreement as the responsible party lacked authority to sign on the decedent’s behalf. The trial court granted the estate’s motion for reconsideration and rescinded its earlier motion compelling the parties to arbitration.

On appeal to the Second District, the court upheld the trial court’s rescission of the motion to compel arbitration, finding that the decedent was not bound by the terms of the admission paperwork or the arbitration clause included therein. The Second District noted that the provisions at issue in Perry were identical to the provisions at issue in the present case, and that the decedent’s wife executed the agreement as the responsible party–not as the decedent’s representative.

Many personal injury actions involve arbitration agreement disputes. This can add a whole new level of complexity to a lawsuit and often requires the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. The attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have provided legal representation to families throughout Southwest Florida for over three decades, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. If you or someone you know has been injured and is being compelled to submit the dispute to arbitration, we can help. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online for your free consultation.

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