In February, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled on a closely watched case concerning whether a nursing home resident’s heirs are bound by agreements signed by that resident on moving into the facility. Clauses that stipulate that any legal disagreements will be settled by arbitration instead of through the court system are becoming a staple of contracts at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state. Usually, elders and their families are so happy to have found a place offering care that meets their needs, tastes and affordability level that they are willing to sign anything to gain entry. In this case, Debra Laizure brought suit against Avante at Leesburg after her father, Harry Stewart, died there in 2006, having been admitted four days earlier. Avante argued that a contract signed by Stewart bound Laizure to accept arbitration in the dispute. Laizure was not a party to the contract. Laizure argued that an arbitration agreement entered into by Stewart could not cover a wrongful death claim because the claim belonged to Stewart’s estate and heirs.
The Justices unanimously found that the arbitration agreement applied to Laizure’s suit, upholding an earlier ruling by the Fifth District Court of Appeals. œThe agreement expressly encompasses claims arising out of or relating to Stewart’s stay at the facility, including negligence and malpractice, and is expressly binding upon and includes claims brought by Stewart’s heirs, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion. œAs reflected in the terms of the arbitration agreement, it is clear that the contracting parties intended to include wrongful death claims such as those brought in this case. Pariente’s written opinion continued, œThe question presented is whether an arbitration provision in an otherwise valid contract binds the signing party’s estate and heirs in a subsequent wrongful death case ¦ we hold that it does. Because the signing party’s estate and heirs are bound by defenses that could be raised in a personal injury suit brought by the decedent, as well as by releases signed by the decedent, it would be anomalous to conclude that they are not also bound by a choice of forum agreement signed by the decedent in a wrongful death action arising out of the treatment and care of the decedent.
Read More: Things to know about arbitration
If you or a family member were injured (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Florida, you should promptly seek the advice of a nursing home attorney to answer your questions and represent you in a nursing home claim, if appropriate.