Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal Overturns Order Compelling Arbitration in Nursing Home Neglect Case

The Florida Court of Appeal for the Fifth District recently revisited an issue involving the enforcement of arbitration agreements in disputes involving nursing homes. In Estate of Reinshagen v. WRYP ALF, the decedent was a resident at the defendant’s living facility. Following his death, the personal representative administering his estate sued the nursing home facility, alleging that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of the decedent’s death. The personal representative also alleged that the defendant violated the decedent’s rights under Florida Statutes chapter 429.

In response to the complaint, the defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the residence agreement that the decedent signed upon moving into the care facility. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, and the personal representative appealed.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order compelling arbitration, citing the recent case of Estate of Novosett v. Arc Villages II. In that case, the lower court concluded that the term in an arbitration contract between a nursing home resident and the nursing home operator that placed a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages the resident could recover was not enforceable. The court also struck a term that prohibited the resident from seeking punitive damages. According to the appellate court, both terms violated public policy.

Noneconomic damages reflect those items that are not easily quantifiable, like pain and suffering and loss of consortium. Conversely, economic damages cover expenses that are directly associated with the harm and easily quantifiable, like medical bills or lost wages.

Although the court struck the terms capping noneconomic damages and precluding the recovery of punitive damages, the court stated that the parties must still pursue arbitration because the contract contained a severability clause allowing the court to sever any terms deemed unenforceable without rendering the entire agreement unenforceable.

Applied to the present case, the Fifth District concluded that the cap on noneconomic damages and preclusion of punitive damages in the agreement were directly similar to the terms in the Novosett case. As a result, the Fifth District reversed the order compelling arbitration and remanded the case to the lower court.

The appellate court also certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court regarding whether a prior case, Gessa v. Manor Care of Florida, controls when an arbitration agreement contains a severability clause. In that case, the court determined that terms limiting noneconomic damages and precluding punitive damages could not be severed because they go to the financial heart of the agreement.

If you or a loved one have suffered injuries due to a nursing home’s abuse or neglect, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites and Tolisano, our nursing home negligence lawyers proudly serve victims throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. This is an incredibly traumatic and stressful time for the victim and his or her family, particularly if the neglect or abuse results in the death of the resident. We will stand by you through each step of the litigation, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you pursue the settlement or the judgment that you deserve. Call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free, confidential consultation today.

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