In any Florida personal injury case brought against a nursing home, one issue that frequently arises is whether the resident has previously agreed to arbitrate their claim, rather than proceed through the court system. This is a critical issue because, in some cases, an arbitration clause signed by a resident may also preclude a resident’s family member from pursuing a claim against the nursing home.
While arbitration is supposed to be a neutral alternative to the court system, most experts agree that arbitration favors nursing homes for several reasons. For example, arbitration is generally a quicker process than a traditional lawsuit, saving nursing homes significant money on litigation costs. More concerning, however, is that arbitration proceedings are not bound by the procedural and evidentiary rules that apply in a Florida personal injury lawsuit. Finally, arbitration results are generally kept secret and cannot be appealed.
Given the benefits arbitration offers to nursing homes, most Florida nursing homes include arbitration agreements in their pre-admission contracts. Generally, a valid arbitration contract is enforceable. However, to prove that an arbitration agreement binds a plaintiff, a nursing home must establish that the plaintiff’s case falls within the agreement. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion discussing whether a court can determine, as a preliminary matter, whether a claim must be resolved through arbitration.
The Issue Decided by the Court
The facts of the case are less important than the legal issue the Court attempted to resolve; however, some background is appropriate. The plaintiff and defendant entered into a contract containing an arbitration clause that applied to any dispute except those seeking injunctive relief. The plaintiff filed a claim against the defendant seeking both injunctive relief and damages. The defendant moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration agreement. However, the plaintiff argued that its claim fell outside the arbitration agreement because it sought injunctive relief. The court agreed with the plaintiff and denied the defendant’s request to compel arbitration. The case was appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court was presented with the question of whether a trial court can dismiss a request to arbitrate if the court determines that the claim of arbitrability is “wholly groundless.” The Court concluded that the trial court has no such authority. The Court explained that the agreement whether a claim must be resolved through arbitration is a gateway issue that is covered by the Federal Arbitration Act. Thus, if the agreement includes “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to resolve gateway issues through arbitration, then only an arbitrator can decide the issues. The court went on to explain that, even if sending a “wholly groundless” claim to arbitration is a waste of time and resources, it is likely to be less wasteful than allowing gateway issues to be handled by courts.
It remains to be seen how this most recent arbitration opinion will affect the rights of Florida nursing home residents. However, it may show the court’s hand insofar as its view of arbitration contracts in general.
Do You Have a Loved One in a Florida Nursing Home?
If you have a loved one in a Florida nursing home, and you believe that they have been subjected to abuse or neglect, contact the dedicated Florida injury lawyers at the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank. At Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent nursing home residents and their families in all types of cases, including cases involving arbitration issues. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 877-448-8585 today.
More Blog Posts:
Florida Court Explains the Limits on Circumstantial Evidence in Recent Car Accident Lawsuit, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 27, 2018.
Can a Court Exclude Relevant Evidence from a Florida Personal Injury Trial?, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 7, 2019.