Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Mississippi issued an interesting opinion for anyone who signed an arbitration clause when admitting their loved one to a nursing home. In the case, Tarvin v. CLC of Jackson, the court determined that the arbitration clause signed by the plaintiff on behalf of her elderly father was not binding because she did not have the legal right to waive her father’s rights, absent a determination of his incompetency.
Whenever a party enters into a contract, they try to include as many favorable terms as possible. However, sometimes nursing homes can overreach, including arbitration clauses that may act to prevent the resident from using the court system to adjudicate any disputes between the parties. Indeed, if an arbitration clause is valid, the parties are required to go to arbitration instead of filing a lawsuit. This can have negative effects on plaintiffs, since usually the nursing home selects which arbitrator to use, giving rise to potential favoritism.
Arbitration clauses, however, are not always valid. In fact, in Tarvin, the court held that the arbitration clause at issue could not be enforced. The court explained that a nursing home resident’s right to use the court system is an important one, and it cannot be waived by just anyone. The court explained that it is only when a resident is deemed incompetent that a loved one can validly sign a binding arbitration agreement. In the Tarvin case, the doctor who determined the plaintiff’s father was incompetent was not his primary care provider. Thus, the court held that there was insufficient evidence proving the elderly man’s incompetence, and he did not validly consent to arbitration through his daughter.