What Role Do Maryland Courts Have in Enforcing Nursing Home Arbitration Clauses?

Most nursing home admission paperwork contains an arbitration clause. By signing an arbitration clause, a nursing home resident agrees to resolve any claims that may arise between the resident and the nursing home through arbitration, rather than through the court system. It is widely understood that arbitration offers great benefits to nursing homes, often to the detriment of nursing home residents and their family members. Thus, plaintiffs in Maryland nursing home lawsuits often seek to void arbitration clauses so they can pursue a claim in court.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a nursing home negligence lawsuit requiring the court to determine if an arbitration clause required the plaintiff to resolve his wrongful death claim through arbitration. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s father passed away while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim in court against the parent company of the nursing home.

Evidently, the plaintiff’s father signed an arbitration clause upon his admission to the facility. The clause was signed by the plaintiff’s father and a nursing home representative. The document contained a “delegation clause” stating that the agreement included “all affiliates, parents, officers, owners, members, agents, successors and assigns” of the nursing home. The nursing home claimed that the agreement required the plaintiff to resolve his claim through arbitration.

The plaintiff argued that only the nursing home, and not the nursing home’s parent company, could enforce the arbitration provision. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the trial court should determine the validity of the arbitration clause. The nursing home claimed that the arbitrator should make this “gateway” determination. The trial court agreed with the nursing home, noting that “any questions about who may have entered [into the] Agreement are to be submitted to an arbitrator.” The court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court disagreed with the lower court’s statement, but affirmed its decision. The court explained that while arbitrators can resolve some threshold issues, issues of contract formation are strictly left to the court. The court explained that the “determination of whether a party seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement actually entered into that agreement is one for the trial court, regardless of a delegation clause.” Thus, the lower court should have made the determination, rather than pass it off to the arbitrator.

Here, however, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case because the agreement clearly applied to the defendant. The court explained that the delegation provision clearly stated that it applied to the defendant. The court rejected the plaintiff ‘s argument that the defendant failed to present any evidence proving its relationship to the nursing home because raised it for the first time on appeal.

Is Your Loved One in a Maryland Nursing Home?

If you have a family member in a Maryland nursing home, and you believe that they are not receiving the care they are entitled to, contact the personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At our Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect law firm, we skillfully represent nursing home residents and their family members in claims against nursing home staff members and management. We have over 20 years of experiences standing up for our clients’ rights, and look forward to working with you. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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