Is a Maryland Arbitration Agreement Valid If It’s Signed by a Family Member?

In some Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases, the determination as to whether a plaintiff’s claim is heard by an arbitrator or by a court can mean the difference between success and defeat. Most legal experts agree that nursing home arbitration contracts only benefit the nursing home. Thus, one of the most common preliminary matters in nursing home lawsuits is determining whether there is a binding arbitration clause.

As a general rule, arbitration clauses are binding on all parties if they are valid and properly executed. However, numerous issues can preclude the enforcement of an arbitration clause. One question that courts have recently been wrestling with is when a resident’s loved one (rather than the resident) signs the arbitration agreement. Recently a state appellate court decided that it would not review an appeal from a nursing home resident whose husband signed the agreement on her behalf.

According to the lower court’s opinion, the plaintiff was admitted to the defendant nursing home. At the time of admission, the plaintiff was accompanied by her husband, who signed the pre-admission paperwork on the plaintiff’s behalf. Among the documents the plaintiff’s husband signed was an agreement to arbitrate any claims arising from the plaintiff’s residence at the facility.

The plaintiff passed away while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff’s estate filed a wrongful death case against the facility, arguing that the staff’s negligence was a contributing cause to the resident’s death. The nursing home responded by seeking to compel arbitration according to the agreement that the plaintiff’s husband had signed.

The trial court agreed with the plaintiff’s estate that the plaintiff’s husband did not have the authority to waive the plaintiff’s right to access the court system. However, on appeal, the intermediate appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision. That court explained that the agreement constituted a valid agreement, having all the required elements of a contract.

The court then went on to hold that the plaintiff’s husband was acting with her express authority when he signed the agreement. The court noted that, according to the record below, the plaintiff indicated verbally that she understood the agreement, but instructed her husband to sign her name. For these reasons, the court reversed the lower court’s judgment and required the plaintiff’s estate to resolve the case through arbitration.

The estate appealed, and in a summary opinion, the court affirmed the intermediate appellate court’s decision without reasoning.

Is Your Loved One in Danger?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and you are concerned that they are not receiving the medical care and treatment that they need, contact the Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we serve nursing home residents and their family members, helping them pursue claims for compensation based on the injuries they have sustained. We represent clients across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and look forward to discussing your case with you. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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