Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a wrongful death case discussing the validity of an arbitration contract signed by the plaintiff on behalf of her elderly father. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the plaintiff’s father lacked the mental capacity to sign the contract at the time it was executed, the plaintiff could not be bound by the arbitration agreement. The case is significant because it presents the important and developing issue arbitration clause enforceability, which frequently arises in Maryland nursing home neglect and abuse lawsuits.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was the daughter of a man who died from injuries allegedly sustained while in the care of the defendant rehabilitation facility. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father suffered from a history of mental health issues, including dementia. One day, the plaintiff’s father fell and was admitted to the hospital. After about ten days in the hospital, the man was discharged from the hospital and sent to the defendant rehabilitation facility.
Before being moved to the rehab facility, the plaintiff executed several documents in preparation for her father’s transfer. Included in these documents was an agreement to arbitrate any claims arising from the facility’s care of the plaintiff’s father. About two months later, the plaintiff’s father was found unresponsive at the rehab facility. He was transferred back to the hospital, where he then passed away.
The plaintiff was named as her father’s personal representative and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the rehab facility. The rehab facility moved to dismiss the claim on the basis of the arbitration agreement that was signed by the plaintiff on behalf of her father. The plaintiff claimed that the contract was invalid because she did not have the legal authority to bind her father to arbitration because he was mentally incapable of providing his consent for her to sign.
The Court’s Discussion
The court agreed with the plaintiff, and permitted her case to proceed towards trial or settlement negotiations. The court first noted that the plaintiff did not have power of attorney over her father’s affairs, and signed only as “next of kin.” Thus, the plaintiff had the authority to sign on her father’s behalf only if her father had the mental capacity to grant her this authority.
The court held that the plaintiff’s father did not have sufficient mental capacity to grant the plaintiff permission to sign on his behalf. The court noted that a diagnosis of dementia alone is not enough to establish mental incapacity. However, here, the court noted that medical notes in the plaintiff’s father’s file indicated that he was “unable to talk” about his upcoming transfer and was “pleasantly demented” at the time of discharge, which made planning for his release difficult. This, the court held, indicated that he was not capable of providing his daughter with legal authority to sign on his behalf. Thus, the arbitration agreement was held to be invalid.
Have You Been Dealing with a Difficult Nursing Home?
If you have recently lost a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and are being told that you have no choice but to arbitrate your claims, contact the dedicated Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we have decades of experience handling cases against negligent and abusive nursing home employees, and we keep ourselves apprised of the changing legal landscape in which these claims arise. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation to speak with an attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
According to New Study Inadequate Staffing Levels Plague Nursing Homes in Maryland and Nationwide, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published September 28, 2018.
Medical Malpractice Claims in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published October 5, 2018.