In near perfect timing with the ruling by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) preventing nursing homes from requiring arbitration to settle disputes, the Florida Supreme Court has rejected a nursing home arbitration plea.
The Miami-Dade County nursing home required residents to sign an arbitration clause mandating that disputes would be settled out of court via arbitration, but following a series of events, one resident’s family took the matter to court anyway – and prevailed.
Nursing Home Arbitration Case
The case in question originated in 2011 when a resident of Hampton Court Nursing Center developed an infection, which ultimately led to his left eye being removed. His son filed a lawsuit on his behalf, but was advised that his having signed a nursing home arbitration agreement precluded such a legal action. In 2013, the resident passed away, but his son continued to pursue justice by battling on with the nursing home.
The son made the argument that he had signed the contract, not his father, and therefore his father should not be bound to the arbitration agreement. The son stated that his father did not agree to the arbitration agreement, and continued to pursue the case. As the battle continued, the 3rd District Court of Appeals took the side of the nursing home and agreed that the case should be arbitrated. Eventually, the case landed before the Florida Supreme Court.
Florida Supreme Court Ruling Makes Headlines
In September 2016 – five years after the case began – Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that the nursing home could not enforce a nursing home arbitration agreement that the son had signed without his father’s agreement. In a 5-2 decision, the court stated, “If we will not enforce a contract when a party agrees under threat or duress, then we should not enforce a contract in the absence of the party’s agreement altogether.”
To make their decision, the Supreme Court considered factors like the father’s mental capacity to provide informed consent, as well as his ability to make medical decisions for himself. Further, at the time the agreement was signed his son did not have power of attorney, but rather referred to himself as his father’s “representative”.
Since Hampton Court Nursing Center did not elect to appoint a legal guardian or petition the court to adjudicate the resident as incapacitated, the Court declined to hold the case to common law contract standards.
Mandatory Arbitration Battle
Mandatory nursing home arbitration clauses have been a serious point of contention, and a focus of regulators and advocates for the elderly, for many years now. Mandatory arbitration in nursing home contracts effectively removes a resident’s right to file a lawsuit if a dispute arises, including serious disputes or allegations of abuse or neglect. Mandatory arbitration agreements may also prevent families from filing lawsuits on a resident’s behalf.
While arbitration can be useful and appropriate for some dispute cases, when it comes to nursing home abuse or neglect, arbitration is most often viewed as a means of aiding the nursing home, not the resident.
Mandatory arbitration agreements in nursing home contracts generally include guidelines for the arbitrator or company, which is most often chosen by the nursing home. This can lead to bias, with cases generally concluding in favor of the nursing home.
What’s more, arbitration shields nursing homes from the public eye, or the scrutiny of the legal system. This prevents prospective residents and their families from getting a full picture of the nursing home and any issues or disputes therein.
CMS Ruling and What it Means
With the new CMS ruling, nursing homes accepting funds from Medicaid and Medicare can no longer require mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts.
This means that as of November 2016, individuals entering nursing homes will retain their right to file a lawsuit if they believe that they have been abused, neglected, or exploited. It will also restore the rights of family members to file lawsuits.
The CMS ruling, and the threat of lawsuits, is also a way of ensuring that nursing homes are held accountable for their actions. With mandatory arbitration nursing homes could rely on private dispute resolution. Now they will be held to the same standard as any other institution, and vulnerable to the consequences of violating resident rights.
Advocates for the elderly hope that the CMS ruling will inspire nursing homes across the country to improve their practices and boost staffing and training. Nursing home residents have the right to safe, quality care, and should never be restricted from pursuing justice if their rights have been violated.
Nursing Home Arbitration and Your Rights
If you or someone you love resides in a nursing home, or is considering doing so, it is important that you understand how nursing home arbitration could affect you. Once the CMS ruling goes into effect in November of 2016, there will be greater protections for the rights of nursing home residents and their families.
Unfortunately, current residents, or those entering into contracts before November, may not be protected under the new ruling. This is a serious concern in light of the fact that there are currently around 1.5 million nursing home residents around the country.
To learn more about your rights, the CMS ruling, nursing home abuse, or how to manage a dispute with a nursing home, you may find it helpful to speak with a skilled nursing home abuse attorney. A nursing home abuse attorney can help you review your situation, explore your legal rights, and determine what options you may have.
We manage nursing home abuse cases around the country, so please fill call us at 1-800-516-4783 for a free consultation.