Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued an interesting opinion in a case involving allegations that a nursing home was negligent in the care of a resident. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss an arbitration clause contained in a contract that also contained a legally invalid clause regarding a related issue. Ultimately, the court concluded that the invalid clause could properly be severed from the rest of the contract. Thus, the arbitration agreement was found to be valid.
The plaintiff was the loved one of a woman who was injured while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the resident’s admission, she signed a pre-admission contract containing a clause agreeing to submit any claims that arose between herself and the nursing home to binding arbitration. There was also a clause stating that each party would be responsible for their own attorney’s fees, regardless of the claim’s outcome. Finally, the contract contained a “severability” clause.
Notwithstanding the arbitration agreement, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the nursing home. In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the nursing home sought the dismissal of the case, based on the signed arbitration agreement. The court determined that the attorney’s fees provision violated public policy, rendering the contract (and the arbitration clause contained therein) invalid. The nursing home appealed.
On appeal, the nursing home pointed to the severability clause, arguing that even if the attorney’s fees provision was invalid, the remainder of the contract should still be valid and enforceable. The court agreed that the attorney’s fees provision was against public policy and therefore void. However, the court also agreed with the nursing home that the attorney’s fees provision was severable from the rest of the contract.
The court explained that a single invalid clause does not automatically void an entire contract. In cases in which the invalid clause goes to the “very essence of the agreement,” the entire contract may be void. However, when the invalid clause does not go to the essence of the agreement and can be severed from the remaining contract without destroying the contract’s purpose, a court may sever only the invalid clause. Here, the court determined that the essence of the agreement was to submit any claims to binding arbitration, and the invalid clause dealt only with attorney’s fees. Thus, the court held that the attorneys’ fees provision should be severed from the contract, and the arbitration clause should be given legal effect.
Is Your Loved One Suffering in a Maryland Nursing Home?
If you have a loved one whom you believe to be suffering from nursing home negligence or abuse, you or your loved one may be entitled to monetary compensation. This may even be the case if you or a family member signed an arbitration agreement. To learn more about nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, and under which circumstances an arbitration clause may be set aside by a court, contact an attorney at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC at 410-654-3600. With decades of experience handling personal injury cases against negligent and abusive nursing home employees, the personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC know what it takes to be successful on behalf of their clients.
More Blog Posts:
The Use of Hidden Cameras in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 12, 2017.
Resident-on-Resident Abuse in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published April 28, 2017.