Articles Posted in Relevant Nursing Home Case Law

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that illustrates a key issue that arises in many Maryland nursing home negligence cases. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the validity of an arbitration clause contained in the nursing home’s pre-admission paperwork. Ultimately, the court concluded that the clause should be upheld and dismissed the plaintiff’s case, holding that the plaintiff was required to submit the case through arbitration.

Reviewing the ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff arranged for himself to stay at the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff was a resident of Nebraska, and the nursing home was a North Dakota corporation with its principal place of business in South Dakota.

Prior to his admission, the nursing home presented the plaintiff with a pre-admission contract. Contained in the contract was an arbitration clause. The clause contained a check-box next to the statement that the parties agree that “any legal controversy, dispute, disagreement or claim arising between the Parties” would be resolved through arbitration. The plaintiff checked the box marked “yes, I do.”

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A state appellate court recently ruled on a case in which a nursing home’s arbitration agreement failed to strictly comply with the state’s requirements concerning arbitration agreements. In that case, when the patient had moved into the nursing home, she received an admissions packet with forms that included an arbitration agreement. The state’s Health Care Availability Act required that arbitration agreements contain a four-paragraph notice in a particular font size and bold-faced type. In the arbitration agreement on the patient’s form, the language was in the correct font size, but was not printed in bold typeface.

Arbitration ClauseAfter the patient’s death, her family brought a wrongful death claim against the nursing home. The nursing home moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration agreement. A trial court and a state appeals court found that the agreement was void because it failed to strictly comply with the Act’s requirements in that the required language was not printed in bold type.

On appeal to the state’s supreme court, however, the court found that the Act only required substantial compliance, not strict compliance. The court also concluded that the agreement in this case substantially complied with the requirements under the Act. Here, the nursing home had printed the relevant language in all capital letters, which the court found substantially satisfied the law’s requirements. The court held that the nursing home brought attention to the text in the same way that bold type would have. Therefore, the nursing home was able to force the family into arbitration to resolve the wrongful death claim against it.

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The right of unhindered access to the court system is one of the bedrock principles the founding fathers enshrined in the United States Constitution. At its essence, the concept stands for the proposition that anyone who has been harmed by another party should have equal access to a neutral forum that will hear the evidence presented and decide the case.

Signed ContractAt the same time, parties generally have a right to freely structure business arrangements through the use of binding contracts. A common example of this is an arbitration clause that may be included in the pre-admission paperwork in a Maryland nursing home facility.

What Is Arbitration?

Arbitration is an alternative to the court system, in which an arbitrator – rather than a judge – will hear the evidence and come to a conclusion. Arbitration is less formal than the traditional court system, and may have slightly different rules of evidence and procedure. Generally speaking, parties that frequently engage in litigation prefer to arbitrate claims. This is because arbitration yields a faster result, is less expensive than, and more private than the traditional court system.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by a woman whose mother died a short time after being released from the defendant nursing home. The issue was whether the plaintiff, who was named as an alternate attorney-in-fact in her mother’s power of attorney document, had the authority to sign a binding arbitration contract on behalf of her mother. The court concluded that she did and thus held that the nursing home was entitled to arbitration.

Pre-admission ContractThe case presents an interesting and important issue for those seeking to hold a Maryland nursing home accountable for abuse or neglect. Matters involving the validity of arbitration clauses often arise in Maryland nursing home abuse lawsuits, and this case is instructive as to how courts may view various arguments.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s mother (Mother) executed a durable power of attorney (DPOA) document designating her son (Son) as the person who could make decisions on her behalf if she became incapacitated. The DPOA listed Mother’s daughter (the plaintiff) as an alternate.

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Over the past few years, Maryland nursing home arbitration agreements have become very common. Essentially, an arbitration agreement is a contractual term between the resident and the nursing home in which the parties agree that, in the event a claim arises, neither party will file a case in the court system. Instead, the parties agree that they will submit the case to an arbitration panel, which will then issue a binding decision.

Signed AgreementThe issues with arbitration are now well known, although that was not always the case. At first blush, arbitration does not necessarily seem like a bad thing because it can result in the quicker resolution of claims and may reduce the costs associated with litigating a case. However, studies have shown that, on average, the rulings of arbitration panels tend to favor the company over the individual. One reason for this is that the company selects the specific company that will conduct the arbitration.

Given the importance of a person’s right to access the court system, courts require that arbitration agreements clearly show the parties’ intent to waive their rights before an arbitration agreement will be enforced. Additionally, courts must determine that the arbitration agreement is written in good faith and treats both sides fairly. Courts have also rejected arbitration agreements in cases involving the survivors of those who signed the original contract, finding that the survivor was not a party to the contract.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury lawsuit discussing the validity of an arbitration agreement. The court ultimately concluded that the arbitration agreement, which was signed by the plaintiff on behalf of his deceased father, was not enforceable against the plaintiff to preclude a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant nursing home facility.

ContractThe case is important to Maryland nursing home litigants because, like the statute discussed in the case, Maryland’s wrongful death statute creates an independent claim that is not derivative of the rights of the deceased.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s father was a resident in the defendant nursing home. Prior to being admitted to the nursing home, the resident was required to sign a pre-admission contract containing an arbitration agreement. The resident, however, was unable to sign the form due to his physical condition. The form was stamped “unable to sign,” and the plaintiff signed the form on his father’s behalf. Underneath his signature, the plaintiff wrote “son.”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that illustrates an important point for those considering filing a Maryland medical malpractice case. The issue presented in the case was whether the plaintiff should have had an expert prepare an affidavit in support of her claim, as is required under that state’s law.

Nursing Home HallwayThe case is important to Maryland plaintiffs because Maryland law requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to obtain a similar affidavit from an expert in the field. As was the case here, a plaintiff’s failure to comply with this strict rule may result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the representative of a resident of the defendant nursing home who was admitted to the facility with a diagnosis of dementia. One day, a nurse checked on the resident, and all seemed to be fine. Then, just 20 minutes later, the same nurse returned, and the resident was sitting on the bathroom floor with a laceration on her head.

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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.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case involving allegations that a nursing home failed to properly care for a resident. The focus of the court’s analysis was on the issue of an arbitration clause that was contained in a pre-admission contract signed by one of the resident’s daughters on the resident’s behalf. Ultimately, the court held that the arbitration clause should be enforced, resulting in the plaintiff being required to resolve the case through binding arbitration.

GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the daughter of a nursing home resident who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Before her death, the resident had fallen six times while a resident of the nursing home. Prior to the resident’s admission into the nursing home, one of the resident’s other daughters executed a pre-admission contract on her mother’s behalf. The contract stated that the parties agreed to submit any case arising out of the resident’s stay at the home to an arbitration panel, rather than resolving the case through the court system. Maryland nursing home residents often sign similar agreements.

At the time the contract was signed by the resident’s daughter, the daughter had power of attorney over her mother’s affairs. Specifically, the power of attorney document gave the daughter control over “all lawful health care decisions” of her mother.

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When someone is seeking admission into a Maryland nursing home, they will almost certainly be presented with a pre-admission contract. This contract goes over the rights and responsibilities of both the nursing home as well as the soon-to-be resident. In most nursing home pre-admission contracts, there is also an arbitration clause agreeing to forego the court system in lieu of arbitration in the event of a disagreement or lawsuit.

Signing a ContractArbitration clauses are generally enforced if they are entered into by the proper parties and are found to be within the constraints of the law. For example, some arbitration clauses have been invalidated because they are “buried” in the fine print of a lengthy contract with nothing indicating the significance of the rights the reader is giving up by signing the document.

Like all contracts, arbitration agreements must be validly entered into in order to be binding. This means that if a resident is found to have been incompetent, or is determined to have been forced to sign an agreement, the contract will not be enforced. A recent news article discusses a Kentucky case in which the court invalidated a nursing home arbitration contract because it was signed by the resident’s sister without the proper power of attorney.

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