NURSING HOME ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS: NOT UNDERSTANDING THEM IS NOT A DEFENSE

In the complex world of Florida Nursing Home Neglect cases, one issue that is highly litigated is the enforceability of arbitration agreements and the limiting effect they have on the injured residents’ ability to recover damages. Too often nursing home residents enter into these arbitration agreements without fully understanding the language and on the misguided belief that the arbitration agreement will not be enforceable because they didn’t know what they were signing.

This issue was recently raised in a Second District Court of Appeal ruling. The case of Spring Lake NC, LLC v. Holloway, So.3d 38 FLW D262 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2-1-2013) involved a situation, where at the time of executing the arbitration agreement, the nursing home resident was 92 years old and had a fourth grade education. The resident (victim) could not spell, had memory problems, was confused, and literally had to sound out words while reading. The lower trial court ruled that as a result of these limitations the arbitration agreement was unenforceable on the grounds that there was no “meeting of the minds” as to its complex terms. The Second District Court of Appeal however overturned the decision thereby holding the victim to the terms and conditions of the arbitration agreement.

The Second DCA noted that the trial court’s assessment of the residents ability to understand was likely correct but ruled a “meeting of the minds” requirement is an outmoded standard. The Second DCA ruled that “a significant percentage of the people who enter nursing homes and rehabilitation centers have mental or physical limitations that make it difficult for them to understand the agreements signed at admittance.” The court went on to rule that “The same is probably true for most of the contract that we sign for many consumer services and … Our modern economy simply could not function if a ‘meeting of the minds’ required individualized understanding of all aspects of the typical standardized contract …”

This ruling highlights the impact that arbitration agreements have on limiting the victim’s ability to recover from a negligent nursing home facility. Often times it is difficult to set these agreements aside or have a court rule that the arbitration agreement is not enforceable. Therefore, it is imperative that all nursing home residents take their time and seek guidance and help to ensure they understand the rights they are waiving by signing an arbitration agreement.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse we invite you to contact Givens Givens Sparks for a free case evaluation. Our firm represents victims in Nursing Home Neglect cases and work individually with victims or their families in an effort to hold facilities responsible for their negligence.

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