Can a Nursing Home Force You to Sign an Arbitration Agreement on Behalf of Your Parent?
When a patient is admitted to a nursing home, one of the first things the staff will attempt to do is get that patient–or a family member–to sign a binding arbitration agreement. In effect, the patient is immediately pressured to sign away their legal right to sue in case they are injured (or killed) by the nursing home staff’s negligence. Unfortunately, federal law tends to strongly favor the enforcement of these arbitration agreements, no matter how one-sided they may be.
Court of Appeals: Daughter Lacked Actual or Apparent Authority to Act for Late Mother
That said, an arbitration agreement is only enforceable if it follows the underlying rules governing contracts. And the burden of proof is on the party seeking to enforce the arbitration agreement–i.e., the nursing home–to establish a valid contract was formed. This includes proving the person who signed the agreement was either the patient or someone legally authorized to act on their behalf.
The nursing home may tell a family member it is okay to sign for their parent or relative. But that does not make it true. A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Manley v. Humboldt Nursing Home, illustrates how it is possible to fight back against such dishonest nursing home tactics.
The plaintiff in this case is the daughter of a woman who was admitted to the defendant’s nursing home for rehab following a hospital stay. The plaintiff’s mother was fully competent at the time of her admission. Nevertheless, the nursing home staff asked the daughter to sign a series of admission forms on her mother’s behalf, including a binding arbitration agreement. The daughter said she signed all of the forms given to her without question, believing they were necessary to ensure that her mother received care.
Crucially, the plaintiff did not have a power of attorney or any legal authorization to act on her mother’s behalf. Indeed, the defendant’s own medical records contained no indication that the mother ever authorized her daughter, or anyone else, to sign documents for her. Nevertheless, after the mother died and the plaintiff filed a lawsuit, the defendant insisted the case must be submitted to arbitration based on the plaintiff’s signature on the agreement.
A Circuit Court judge rejected this argument and denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals agreed with and affirmed the trial judge. The appellate court said there was no valid agreement to arbitrate based on the facts of this case. Specifically, the record “lacks evidence that [the plaintiff] had express actual authority to sign the arbitration agreement for her mother,” either orally or in writing. Nor was this a case where the plaintiff had “apparent authority” to act, as the mother never subsequently affirmed the arbitration agreement herself or personally informed the nursing home staff it was okay for her daughter to act.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today
Whenever someone asks you to sign an arbitration agreement, you should proceed with skepticism. And if someone is trying to enforce an arbitration agreement against you without proper legal justification, you need to assert your rights before it is too late. If you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Nashville personal injury lawyer, contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.