Florida Appellate Decision Allows Estate Out of Arbitration Required by Nursing Home Residential Agreement

Often, personal injury actions involve contract law. For example, in many Florida automobile accident cases, the injured person must deal with either his or her own insurance policy or the policy of the at-fault party. In these types of cases, the terms of the policy are scrutinized to determine whether a clause will either provide or limit benefits to the injured person or persons. For any contract, the terms of the policy must be clear, and any vagueness in the contract is interpreted in favor of the party who did not draft the document. But before any contract can be effective, all parties must agree to the terms and have the presence of mind to do so.

The Second District Court of Appeal recently affirmed a ruling in favor of an estate filing a wrongful death case against a nursing home. In this case, the nursing home appealed the trial court’s decision not to grant their motion to compel arbitration per the Resident Admission and Financial Agreement.

In Sovereign Healthcare of Tampa v. Estate of Otto N. Schmitt (2D15-2969), the personal representative and widow of the deceased filed suit against the nursing home that provided him long-term residential care twice before his death. The nursing home attempted to move the proceeding to arbitration per the agreement signed at the beginning of each residence. The agreement was not signed by the deceased resident, and it became clear that the wife did not have the authority to sign on her husband’s behalf. In its ruling, the appellate court pointed to a prior ruling made in 2014 dealing with the same issue in Sovereign Healthcare of Tampa v. Estate of William S. Yarawsky (2D13-2083).

Yarawsky was also a negligence action against a nursing home, which included an agreement, signed at the beginning of the residence, to have all conflicts resolved through arbitration. The estate objected to the arbitrator selected by the nursing home and argued that the deceased resident did not sign the agreement and was not bound by the arbitration clause. The estate also argued that his wife, who signed as the responsible party, did not have the authority to sign on his behalf. In Yarawsky, the appellate court talked about the specific factors that negate an agreement. As in Schmitt, the resident did not sign the document, and the court in Yarawsky noted that there was no proof that he was unable to sign. There was also no evidence that the wife who signed had the authority to do so. Even if a family member or third party has the authority to sign for other things like medical care decisions, Florida case law requires a person bound by an arbitration agreement to be mentally incapacitated before another person can sign for them. The court ruled in both Yarawsky and Schmitt that without proof of mental incapacitation, there were not two valid parties to the residential agreement, and the estates could not be compelled to use arbitration.

The South Florida wrongful death attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the experience you need to aggressively litigate your personal injury case. Our attorneys can carefully review any relevant contracts to see which provisions may and may not apply to your action. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Decision Allows Woman Injured by Slip and Fall to Pursue Negligence Action Against County, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2016

Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Grocery Store Slip-and-Fall Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2016