Articles Posted in Nursing Home Abuse and Negligence

Over the past few years, arbitration contracts in nursing homes have been a hot-bed of litigation across the country. Indeed, last year, a federal agency attempted to make it much more difficult for government-funded nursing homes to include arbitration agreements in their pre-admission contracts. However, since then, the nursing home industry has been successful in preventing the ultimate passage and enforcement of that rule.

signatureIn the most recent development, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a nursing home case siding with the nursing home. In that case, two family members filed wrongful death lawsuits against a nursing home that had cared for two of their loved ones prior to their death. Prior to the residents’ admission into the nursing home, they executed a general power of attorney in favor of the plaintiffs, giving the plaintiffs the ability to “dispose of all matters.”

The plaintiffs later placed their loved ones in the defendant nursing home. However, prior to their loved ones’ admission, the plaintiffs had to complete the pre-admission contract. One clause in that contract agreed to submit any and all claims that may arise between the parties to binding arbitration.

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Late last year, a state court of appeals issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case brought by the estate of the deceased resident. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss when an arbitration agreement is valid if it is signed by someone other than the resident. Ultimately, the court held that the arbitration agreement signed by the resident’s son was invalid because the power of attorney document the resident had executed did not specify that the resident’s loved one had control over her legal affairs.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case was the estate of the deceased nursing home resident. Prior to the resident’s admission into the nursing home, she had executed a power of attorney in favor of her son, who was helping her obtain the long-term care that she needed. In 2005, the resident was admitted into the nursing home after her son signed the pre-admission contract. Several years later, the nursing home presented the resident with a voluntary arbitration agreement, which her son also signed.

In 2012, the resident died, allegedly due to injuries she sustained while at the nursing home. The resident’s estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home. In response, the nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case, citing the voluntary arbitration agreement that the resident’s son had previously signed. The trial court rejected the defendant’s request to arbitrate, claiming that the power of attorney document did not give the resident’s son the right to agree to arbitration, and therefore, the arbitration agreement was invalid. The nursing home appealed.

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Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court handed down a decision in an interesting nursing home negligence case, requiring the court to determine the validity of an arbitration contract signed by a deceased resident’s daughter. The court ultimately rejected the nursing home’s argument that, since the resident was a third-party beneficiary of the admission contract, the resident should be bound by the contract despite her daughter’s lack of legal authority to enter into the contract on behalf of her mother.

GavelA Daughter Signs a Contract on Behalf of Her Incompetent Mother

The resident’s daughter was helping her incompetent mother find a nursing home. After the daughter settled on the defendant nursing home, she signed an admission contract on behalf of her mother. Part of that admission contract was an arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement waived the mother’s right to use the court system if anything should happen in the future giving rise to a personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Unfortunately, the resident was injured while at the nursing home and later died from complications related to that injury. The resident’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home, arguing that the nursing home was responsible for the resident’s injuries and subsequent death.

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The Supreme Court of Oklahoma recently released a decision granting a plaintiff’s request to prevent the enforcement of an order issued by the judge presiding over a wrongful death case. The initial order had denied the plaintiff’s request to amend their complaint and add additional defendants of whom the plaintiff was initially unaware. Although the state supreme court denied the plaintiff’s request to immediately force the trial judge to grant their motion to amend the complaint, the most recent ruling will result in further proceedings at the district court level to determine if the plaintiff is entitled to hold the additional parties responsible in the wrongful death case.

NurseThe Plaintiff’s Claim of Nursing Home Neglect and Wrongful Death

The plaintiff in the case of Maree v. Willow Park Health Care Center is the personal representative of the estate of a woman who died while she was a patient at a long-term nursing facility operated by the defendants. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the lawsuit alleges that the defendant negligently failed to respond to an assistance call made by the patient, resulting in her suffering injuries in a fall while she attempted to use the bathroom unassisted. The plaintiff’s claim further alleges that the defendants failed to adequately respond after the patient was injured, ultimately resulting in her death two days later. Based on the alleged negligence of the nursing home operators, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages from the defendant.

The Plaintiff’s Attempt to Pierce the Corporate Veil is Denied

After filing the wrongful death claim, the plaintiff became aware of additional parties who acted as owners/managers of the defendant nursing home corporation and sought to add them as defendants to the case. Although corporate owners and members cannot generally be held personally accountable for negligence committed by the corporation, the plaintiff argued that case discovery would find evidence that the additional defendants were personally involved in the daily operations of the nursing home and could be held personally accountable for their role in the patient’s death. After hearing argument on the plaintiff’s motion, the trial court ruled that the proposed defendants could not be added and denied the plaintiff’s request to conduct additional discovery on the defendants. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the state supreme court and sought an order blocking the enforcement of the trial court’s order.

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The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently released a decision reversing a lower appellate decision that determined the defendant nursing home maintained their right to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s wrongful death claim against them, filed on behalf of the plaintiff’s deceased mother. The state supreme court determined that by litigating several issues both before and after the decedent’s passing, the defendant had given up their right to enforce an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff when her mother moved into the nursing home.

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The Plaintiff’s Mother’s Health Declined Quickly after Moving into the Nursing Home

The case of Johnson v. Heritage Healthcare was filed based on the plaintiff’s mother’s quickly deteriorating health and eventual death while living in a nursing home operated by the defendant. According to the facts recited in the supreme court opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was in good health when she moved into the home, but her condition dramatically worsened within six months of moving in. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s negligence resulted in her mother’s poor health and eventual death, and she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against them after her mother’s passing.

Prior to the Wrongful Death Lawsuit, the Plaintiff Sought Her Mother’s Medical Records from the Defendant

After her mother’s condition worsened but before her death, the plaintiff filed an action against the defendant, seeking her mother’s medical records to determine why her health had deteriorated so quickly while under the defendant’s care. Although the plaintiff had signed an agreement to pursue claims through arbitration rather than in a state court proceeding, the defendant responded to the plaintiff’s claims in state court. The defendant vehemently resisted the plaintiff’s attempt to access her mother’s medical records, refusing to turn them over after the court ordered that they do so. Until her mother died, the plaintiff was unable to access her medical records in spite of the court’s order compelling the defendant to release them.

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