Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of two nursing home residents who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The case required the court to determine whether a state law was valid if it permitted a loved one of a nursing home resident to enter into binding arbitration only when they possess a power of attorney document that specifically mentions “access to the courts” as a conferred right. Ultimately, the court determined that the state law violated the Federal Arbitration Act.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of two loved ones who lived in the defendant nursing home prior to their deaths. Prior to the residents’ admission to the facility, the plaintiffs completed the necessary pre-admission paperwork for each of the residents. One clause in the document stated that “[a]ny and all claims or controversies arising out of or in any way relating to . . . the Resident’s stay at the Facility” would be resolved through binding arbitration. At the time the paperwork was completed, the plaintiffs had valid documents indicating that they possessed powers of attorney for their loved ones that permitted they “dispose of all matters” related to their loved ones.
In the next year, both residents died while in the care of the nursing home. The nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case and require the plaintiffs to submit their cases through the arbitration process, as indicated in the pre-admission contracts. The state court rejected the nursing home’s argument, finding that a person’s access to the court system is a “sacred” right, and it can only be waived by an explicit statement in the power of attorney document.
The Supreme Court’s Opinion
The Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision, finding that the state court’s construction and application of this new rule violated the Federal Arbitration Act. The court explained that the Federal Arbitration Act makes arbitration agreements “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable,” unless an exception applies. As a general rule, an arbitration agreement is subject to contractual defenses, but the court held that arbitration contracts must be “viewed on an equal plane with other contracts.” Here, the court explained that the state court’s clear-statement rule treated arbitration contracts differently from other contracts, and thus it violated the Federal Arbitration Act.
Has Your Loved One Suffered in a Maryland Nursing Home?
If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and you believe that they may have been subject to abuse or neglect, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While some arbitration contracts will be upheld by the courts, many are invalid for a number of reasons. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience and a successful track record litigating the validity of arbitration contracts. Call 410-654-3600 today to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury lawyer.
More Blog Posts:
The Use of Hidden Cameras in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 12, 2017.
Resident-on-Resident Abuse in Maryland Nursing Homes, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published April 28, 2017.