Court Upholds Arbitration Contract Signed by Alternate Power-of-Attorney Designee

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.

The 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.

When Mother started to need help with her day-to-day activities, the plaintiff was the one who helped her. This reached the point at which the plaintiff was writing checks on her mother’s behalf and exercising other rights mentioned in the DPOA. When it came time that Mother had to be placed in a nursing home, the plaintiff conducted the research and made the ultimate decision. The plaintiff signed all pre-admission paperwork, including an agreement to submit any claims arising between the parties to arbitration, rather than file a case in court.

Mother was in the defendant facility for about three years. About one month after Mother left the facility, she died. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home, arguing that Mother’s death was a result of the care she received at the nursing home.

The nursing home sought dismissal of the case based on the signed arbitration agreement. The plaintiff argued that, as an alternate attorney-in-fact, she did not have the authority to bind her mother to arbitration.

The nursing home pointed out that the plaintiff had been executing her rights as attorney-in-fact for several years before Mother was admitted to the nursing home, and the nursing home should have been able to rely on the plaintiff’s assertion that she was the attorney-in-fact. The trial court rejected the nursing home’s argument, finding that the nursing home failed to establish that Son was unable or unwilling to serve as the DPOA.

The court agreed with the nursing home and found that the plaintiff did have the authority to sign the arbitration agreement. In so holding, the court noted that there was no law stating that an alternate DPOA is prevented from exercising the rights granted in the document. Here, since the plaintiff had already begun to exercise the DPOA rights, the court held that the plaintiff had the right — and power — to sign the arbitration clause.

Has Your Loved One Been Injured in a Maryland Nursing Home?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and you have reason to believe that they are not receiving the treatment that they need and deserve, contact the Maryland personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we represent nursing home residents and their families in abuse and neglect cases across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Recent Investigative Report Reveals High Rate of Nursing Home Abuse, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 21, 2018.

State Attorneys General Call Nursing Home Reforms into Question and Call for a Reevaluation, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published June 7, 2018.

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