Earlier this month, the District Court of Appeal for Florida’s Second District issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case. The issue the court had to decide was whether the arbitration clause that was signed by the deceased resident’s daughter could bind the resident’s estate in a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home. The court held that the agreement could not bind the estate to arbitrate, and it allowed the estate to pursue its claims through the court system.
The case arose after a nursing home resident died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. At the time of her death, as well as prior to her admission to the nursing home, the resident was not competent to make her own medical decisions. Thus, the woman’s daughter was helping her get placed into a nursing home facility. As a part of this assistance, the daughter arranged for her mother to stay at the defendant nursing home and signed an arbitration agreement prior to her mother’s admission.
At the time the daughter signed the arbitration agreement, her mother had not assigned a power of attorney to her daughter. In fact, it was undisputed that the daughter was merely acting as a health care proxy for her mother and did not have any control over financial or legal matters involving her mother. However, when the daughter signed the arbitration agreement, she signed on the line designated for a “legal guardian.” The agreement defined a legal guardian as someone “who, under independent legal authority, such as a court order has authority to act on the Resident’s behalf.”