Court Holds that Alternate Designee in Power-of-Attorney Document Had Authority to Sign Arbitration Agreement

In most Florida nursing home abuse and neglect cases, the threshold issue is whether the case can be pursued through the court system, or if the plaintiff must pursue their claim for compensation through the arbitration process. The reason this issue so often arises is because nursing homes routinely include arbitration agreements in their pre-admission paperwork.While arbitration is generally understood to be a more favorable forum for a nursing home, many families end up signing these agreements due to the inherent emotional pressures that are present at the time a decision must be made. While courts do have the ability to declare arbitration agreements void, it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish why that is the case.

In a recent opinion, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed based on an arbitration agreement that she had signed prior to admitting her mother into the defendant nursing home. In so holding, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that, at the time she signed the document, she did not have the legal authority to do so.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s mother executed a power-of-attorney document, granting primary decision-making authority to her son, the plaintiff’s brother. The plaintiff was listed as an alternate designee in the event that her brother was unwilling or unable to accept the responsibilities to care for his mother.

As the plaintiff’s mother got older, it was the plaintiff who cared for her. Her brother was not involved in caring for their mother. In 2013, the plaintiff’s mother was transferred to the defendant nursing home. At the time, the plaintiff’s mother had dementia and was unable to handle her own affairs, so the plaintiff assisted her in the admission process. Part this process involved completing the pre-admission paperwork, which included an agreement to arbitrate all claims arising between the parties.

The plaintiff’s mother lived at the facility for three years before leaving. Just one week after leaving, the plaintiff’s mother died. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the nursing home.

The nursing home moved to have the case dismissed based on the arbitration agreement. In response, the plaintiff claimed that as the alternate designee, she did not have the authority to commit her mother (and her mother’s estate) to arbitration.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument. The court explained that the plaintiff had been exercising the rights conferred by the power-of-attorney document for years as she cared for her mother. For example, the court pointed out that the plaintiff had been writing checks off of her mother’s account to pay for her mother’s care, and otherwise acted as though she possessed the powers granted by the document.

Thus, the court held that the nursing home was correct to rely on the plaintiff’s agreement that all claims would be submitted to arbitration, and the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

If you have a loved one in a Florida nursing home, and you are concerned that they are not getting the treatment and care that they need and deserve, contact the dedicated South Florida personal injury law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank. At Friedman Rodman & Frank, we have decades of experience representing nursing home residents and their families in a wide range of nursing home abuse and neglect cases. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.

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