Court Invalidates Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement in Recent Decision

Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that often arises in Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases. The case required the court to determine if an arbitration agreement was valid when it was signed by a resident’s family member who possessed a valid power of attorney at the time the document was executed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the decision of whether to admit someone to a nursing home constitutes a “health care decision,” which was not a right conferred by the power of attorney document.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a woman who died shortly after leaving the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the resident’s admission, the resident had executed two relevant documents. The first, executed in 2006, was a health-care power of attorney executed in favor of the plaintiff. The second, executed in 2010, was a personal-care power of attorney executed in favor of the plaintiff as well as the resident’s sister.

After the second document was executed, the resident’s sister placed the resident in the defendant nursing home. Prior to admitting the resident, the resident’s sister executed a pre-admission contract that contained an arbitration clause whereby both parties agreed to submit any claim that arose between the two to binding arbitration rather than the court system.

A few years later, the resident was experiencing seizures and was suffering from complications related to medication she was taking. The resident’s doctor had her stop taking the medication, and the resident’s sister decided to move the resident back into her home. Before the resident’s sister could move the resident, she contracted pneumonia and passed away.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant nursing home, alleging negligence in the care of her aunt. The nursing home defended against the lawsuit by claiming that the plaintiff’s case was not properly in a court of law because the resident’s sister had signed an agreement to arbitrate. The court was tasked with determining the validity of the arbitration agreement.

The court began its analysis by noting that agreements to arbitrate are generally enforceable. However, the court explained that an agreement must be properly executed. Here, the court noted that the second power of attorney document expressly did not authorize the resident’s sister to make any “health care decisions” for the resident. Next, the court concluded that the decision of whether to admit someone to a nursing home constitutes a health care decision. As a result of that determination, the plaintiff’s sister did not have authority to enter into the arbitration agreement, and thus it was not valid.

Thus, the plaintiff’s case against the defendant nursing home was permitted to continue forward to trial or settlement negotiations.

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and you believe that they may have been a victim of abuse or neglect, contact one of the dedicated Maryland personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC to discuss your case. You may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled Maryland injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have extensive experience representing clients and their families in cases against abusive and negligent nursing home employees. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Is One of the Few States that Allow Video Cameras in Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published November 28, 2017.

Nursing Home Settles Federal Lawsuit Stemming from the Inadequate Care Provided to Residents, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published December 7, 2017.

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