Maryland nursing homes often include a clause in their pre-admission paperwork indicating that the parties agree to arbitrate any claims that may arise in the future rather than file a case through the traditional means. However, arbitration can be detrimental to nursing home residents, and residents should not assume that they will be precluded from pursuing a personal injury lawsuit based on a signed arbitration contract.
There are several ways that a Maryland arbitration agreement can be held to be invalid and unenforceable. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the concept of “mutuality of assent,” which is essentially the requirement that both parties know what they are agreeing to when a contract is signed.
The Facts of the Case
The case did not deal with a nursing home lawsuit, but it is relevant because it shows how courts interpret arbitration contracts. According to the court’s opinion, the contract at issue involved a “home service agreement,” by which the defendant would pay for and arrange to complete home maintenance on the plaintiff’s homes in exchange for the contract term price of $1050.
Evidently, the plaintiff became dissatisfied with the services of the defendant and sought a refund, which she was given. The plaintiff later filed a claim against the defendant under the Consumer Fraud Act. The defendant sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint based on a signed “arbitration agreement.” Thus, the court was tasked with determining whether the agreement was valid, and if so, whether the plaintiff was bound to resolve the case through arbitration.
The plaintiff claimed that the agreement was not clear and that she did not intend to give up the right to pursue a legal claim against the defendant when she signed the agreement. In support of her claim, the plaintiff pointed out that the language in the agreement referred to arbitration and mediation interchangeably, that the font was exceedingly small, and that the contract contained no language indicating she was waiver her right to file a case against the defendant.
The Court’s Opinion
The court began by noting that, in general, properly formed arbitration agreements are enforceable. However, to be enforceable, an arbitration agreement must inform both sides what rights they are giving up by signing the contract. The court referred to this as “mutuality of assent.”
Here, the court held there was no mutuality of assent. The court explained because the agreement interchangeable used the terms arbitration and mediation, a party could easily be confused. That being the case, the court determined that the agreement was not enforceable.
Are You Fighting to Pursue a Case Against a Maryland Nursing Home?
If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, but have been told that you cannot bring a case because you signed an arbitration agreement, 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 holding nursing homes responsible for their negligent acts. Not only that, but we have a firm understanding of the evolving area of law surrounding arbitration contracts, and can fight to uphold your right to access the court system. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Sexual Assault in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published January 15, 2019.
Important Arbitration Opinion May Impact the Rights of Maryland Nursing Home Residents and Their Families, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published January 22, 2019.