Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida nursing home negligence lawsuit requiring the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case was properly brought in court or if she was required to submit the case to arbitration. Ultimately, the court concluded that while there was one clause in the agreement that was unenforceable, the agreement as a whole should be upheld. Thus, the plaintiff was still required to submit her case through arbitration.
The plaintiff was the estate of a woman who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the woman’s admission into the nursing home, she executed an arbitration agreement. Essentially, the agreement waived her right to pursue a claim against the nursing home in a court of law, favoring resolution of any claims through the arbitration process.
After the woman died, the estate filed a personal injury lawsuit against the nursing home, claiming that the arbitration agreement the woman had signed was unenforceable because while the agreement stipulated that Florida substantive law would be applied at the arbitration proceedings, it also stipulated that Alabama rules of evidence and procedural rules would apply.
The estate argued that this created a problem because Alabama allows for only punitive damages to be recovered in this type of case, whereas Florida law allows for compensatory and punitive damages. Thus, the estate argued that if the Alabama rules of evidence were applied at the proceeding, the effect would be that any evidence proving the estate’s compensatory damages claim would be inadmissible because it would be irrelevant. The estate also argued that, because the contract as written was confusing given the various states’ law that were applied, the court should determine that the whole agreement was void.
The court agreed with the estate that applying Alabama law during the proceeding would unfairly prevent it from recovering damages to which it may be entitled. However, the court concluded that the remainder of the arbitration agreement should be upheld. The court explained that when one clause in a contract is found to be void or unenforceable, a court should invalidate the rest of the contract only when the offending clause goes to the “very essence” of the agreement.
Here, the court concluded that the choice-of-laws provision did not go to the very essence of the arbitration agreement, and thus, that the agreement should be upheld.
Is Your Loved One Suffering in a South Florida Nursing Home?
If you have a loved one in a South Florida nursing home, and you believe that they are not receiving the care and treatment that they deserve, contact the South Florida personal injury lawyers at Friedman Rodman & Frank. At Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent nursing home residents and their families in all types of cases against abusive and neglectful nursing home facilities. With our decades of experience handling Florida nursing home cases, you can rest assured that when you trust us to handle your case, it is in good hands. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.
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