The Dangers of Signing a Relative’s Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement
Many Tennessee residents find themselves in the position of having to sign paperwork on behalf of an ill or infirm family member. A common example of this is signing admission forms to admit a parent to a nursing home. Unfortunately, many nursing homes and healthcare providers take advantage of this opportunity to get an unsuspecting relative to sign a binding arbitration agreement. This means that in the event that the facility’s negligence results in the patient’s injury or death, the family’s legal options for seeking compensation may be severely limited.
Court of Appeals: Son Had “Express Authority” to Sign Away Mother’s Legal Rights
A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Watson v. Quince Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, illustrates the dangers of these agreements. The plaintiff in this case is the daughter of a woman who died while a resident of the defendant’s nursing home. She subsequently sued the nursing home and one of its doctors for wrongful death and negligence. In response to the lawsuit, the defense moved to “stay” the case and submit the matter to binding arbitration instead.
The defense cited an arbitration agreement signed by the victim’s son as part of her original admissions paperwork. The defense argued the son held a “durable power of attorney for healthcare” signed by his mother, and this gave him the legal authority to sign a “valid and enforceable” arbitration agreement on her behalf. The plaintiff disagreed, noting the power of attorney in question only took effect in the event the mother was incapacitated, which she was not at the time, and that in any event, the document only permitted the son to make strictly healthcare-related decisions for her.
During a deposition, however, the son himself testified that his mother had given him “permission to sign everything on her behalf.” Notwithstanding this, a Shelby County judge rejected the defense’s motion to compel arbitration. The judge agreed with the plaintiff that the mother’s power of attorney had not been triggered and that while the son could bind himself to an arbitration agreement, he could not bind his mother.
But the Court of Appeals said the arbitration agreement was enforceable. Reversing the trial judge, the appeals court said that the son had “express authority” to sign his mother’s admission paperwork. And while the arbitration agreement was not necessary for admission to the nursing home, the Court of Appeals said it “declined to draw a distinction between a health care decision and a legal decision” in this context.
Speak with a Tennessee Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today
Arbitration often places victims and their families in a much weaker legal position versus a normal court. Arbitration agreements often limit a plaintiff’s ability to conduct pre-trial discovery. Indeed, the plaintiff may even be restricted in their ability to call and cross-examine witnesses. And arbitration awards are notoriously difficult to appeal.
For all these reasons, it is important to consult with an experienced Clinton nursing home abuse attorney if you have concerns about how an arbitration agreement like the one described above may affect you or someone you love. Contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today.