Nursing home and long term care facilities throughout the United States frequently rely on arbitration clauses as part of their admission procedures. Arbitration clauses provide the contracting parties a way to resolve disputes without involving the court system. Although, there are some benefits to these clauses, most Florida nursing homes design the agreements to benefit themselves and not the abuse victim or their family.
On its face, arbitration is typically faster and less costly than litigation; however, there are many potential drawbacks associated with these agreements. Arbitration agreements are generally mandatory, and residents often have no choice but to agree if they wish to be admitted to the facility. Further, signing a mandatory agreement often results in the resident giving up their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. Additionally, many usual rules of evidence do not apply in these proceedings, and despite being neutral, many arbitrators work to the benefit of the nursing home. Finally, disputes regarding these agreements often result in lengthy legal proceedings, precisely what the clause was designed to avoid.
For example, in a recent opinion, a Florida appellate court reversed a lower court’s ruling and found that a nursing home could compel a plaintiff to arbitrate their lawsuit. In that case, a husband executed a voluntary arbitration agreement on behalf of his wife before her admission to the nursing home. The arbitration agreement included various clauses, including a limitation on damages and a term that if any part of the contract was found to be invalid, then only the unenforceable term would be severed from the agreement.