Supreme Court of Florida Resolves the Split of Authority Regarding Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements

In Mendez, Jr. v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC, the Supreme Court of Florida had the occasion to consider an important issue regarding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. The plaintiff, a personal representative of his father’s estate, appealed the Third District Court’s decision regarding when a convalescent hospital resident is bound by the terms of an arbitration term in a nursing home agreement when the resident did not sign or otherwise commit to the agreement.

The facts of the case are as follows. The son admitted his father to the defendant’s nursing home facility in 2009. At this time, he executed a nursing home residency contract on behalf of his father. The agreement contained a clause stating that any disputes regarding the care provided to the resident would be subject to arbitration as the exclusive remedy. The father did not sign the agreement.

During his residency at the defendant’s facility, the father contracted an eye infection that ultimately required the removal of his afflicted eye. Shortly thereafter, the son initiated a lawsuit against the nursing home on his father’s behalf, alleging statutory violations and negligence. The defendant responded to the complaint by filing a motion to compel arbitration, and the trial court granted this request. During the appeal, the father passed away.

The Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s grant of the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, noting that although the father did not sign the agreement, he was a third-party beneficiary of the contract. The son then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Florida, which granted review of the case to clarify a discrepancy in Florida case law regarding the effect of arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.

Both the First Circuit and the Third Circuit had concluded in similar cases that a resident could be held to an arbitration clause, regardless of whether he or she actually signed the agreement, or whether the person who did sign the agreement had the resident’s authority to legally bind him or her. The Supreme Court of Florida ultimately rejected this approach in favor of the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Districts’ approach, which found that a resident cannot be bound to the terms of a nursing home agreement if he or she did not execute it and if the signing party lacked authority to contract on the resident’s behalf. The court also specifically rejected the lower court’s reliance on the third-party beneficiary doctrine.

If you are a nursing home resident facing an unreasonable arbitration provision, or if your loved one is a nursing home resident who has suffered harm, the skilled elder abuse lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are prepared to help you seek justice. We have counseled victims and their families throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online.

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