Arbitration Clauses in Florida Nursing Home Cases Binding Upon Heirs and Estate

The Supreme Court of Florida recently decided Laizure v. Avant at Leesburg, a very important case for the many Florida residents whose elderly parents are in nursing homes. In that case, an elderly man died several days after he was admitted to a nursing home for rehabilitation after surgery. The day after he arrived at the facility, he signed an agreement requiring that conflicts resulting from his treatment and care at the nursing home be resolved through binding arbitration, rather than at trial.

His family brought a lawsuit in circuit court. Their complaint not only stated claims under a statute for deprivation of the man’s nursing home residents’ rights under a Florida statute, but also pled claims for wrongful death in the alternative.

The nursing home defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration based on the addendum signed by the man. The agreement specifically stated that it would be binding on the man’s heirs and it waived his right to trial by jury.

The man’s family opposed the motion for arbitration arguing that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and that the wrongful death lawsuit was not arbitrable because the right to sue in such a claim didn’t belong to the man who had signed the agreement, but to them. The trial court disagreed.

Although it affirmed the trial court’s ruling, the Fifth District appellate court noted no Florida decision had addressed the question of whether a nursing home arbitration agreement could bind an estate or heirs for purposes of a wrongful death action. It looked at an earlier case in which the court had held that a wrongful death lawsuit is not an arbitrable case. In that case, arbitration of personal injury disputes wasn’t provided for in a homeowner’s purchase and sale contract. But the court concluded that the arbitration agreement in this case was broader; any wrongful death cause of action in this case would be based on the transformation of the man’s personal injury case for negligence into a wrongful death case.

The Fifth District decided against the heirs, but certified to the Florida Supreme Court the question of whether a nursing home arbitration agreement signed by someone who had died bound his heirs in a wrongful death action that arose from a personal injury tort which was covered by the agreement.

The Supreme Court of Florida set forth the three questions that needed to be answered when deciding a motion to compel arbitration:

(1) Was there a valid written agreement to arbitrate?
(2) Was there an arbitrable dispute?
(3) Was the right to arbitration waived?

In reaching its conclusion, the Florida Supreme Court reasoned that the right to sue for wrongful death was not independent, but came out of the right to sue for personal injuries. The court also reasoned that the signing party’s family members were bound by the defenses the nursing home could have raised in a personal injury action by the decedent.

Concluding there were no reasons why a family’s rights should be broader than its loved one’s, the court held that the man’s signature on the arbitration agreement bound his family to its terms.

While nothing can fully compensate for the loss of a loved one, certain losses may be recovered if a family member was killed as the result of someone else’s negligence or wrongful act. Call the compassionate and hardworking South Florida wrongful death attorneys of Friedman, Rodman & Frank for a consultation at 877-448-8585.


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