Under the current state of the law, Maryland nursing homes can ask potential residents to sign arbitration agreements. Often, these agreements are included in the pre-admission paperwork that must be completed before a resident is admitted. However, there are many issues that an arise affecting the enforceability of an arbitration agreement.
For example, courts have repeatedly held that an arbitration agreement is not valid if one party tells the other they must sign it. Similarly, for the most part, an arbitration agreement must be signed by the resident, because this is the person whose rights the agreement affects. However, routinely, nursing homes do not comply with the procedural and substantive rules governing arbitration agreements, rendering the agreements unenforceable. In a recent opinion, a state appellate court held that an arbitration agreement was unenforceable based on several criteria.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was a resident at the defendant nursing home. During her stay, she developed severe skin ulcers that ultimately required the amputation of her leg. The plaintiff’s mother died just a few days after leaving the home, and the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility.
The facility sought to compel arbitration based on an agreement that the plaintiff signed on behalf of her mother. The parties disputed the setting in which the agreement was signed. The plaintiff claimed that she was presented with the contract in the facility’s business office and told she had to sign the agreement. The nursing home claimed that the plaintiff signed the agreement in her mother’s room, with her mother’s permission.
The court rejected the nursing home’s attempt to compel arbitration for two reasons. First, the court found that the contract did not bind the plaintiff because she was not a party to the agreement. The court explained that nowhere in the contract was the plaintiff mentioned, and the signature box where she signed indicated she was signing as “resident representative/agent.” Thus, the court held that by signing for her mother’s representative, the plaintiff did not limit her own rights to file a lawsuit against the facility.
Second, the court held that the agreement was unconscionable. Unconscionability refers to unfairness in the way a contract came into existence as well as in the terms of the deal. The court explained that the agreement was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. In part, this was because the arbitration agreement was buried in a separate section of the contract without a heading or anything else to indicate the importance of the term.
Has Your Loved One Suffered in a Maryland Nursing Home?
If your loved one has experienced abuse or neglect at a Maryland nursing home, contact the dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At our Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect law firm, we represent both residents and their families. We help to hold negligent and abusive nursing home employees accountable across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more, call 800-654-1949 to schedule a free consultation today.