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.