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Florida Supreme Court rules on nursing home issue

In a decision that will likely affect thousands of citizens with loved ones who die while in the care of a nursing home, the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that any agreements nursing home residents sign prior to moving in also apply to those individuals' children. The case centered around a wrongful death claim filed by a woman whose father died while staying at a Florida nursing home. 

Nursing homes and assisted-living centers across the state are increasingly subjecting residents to clauses requiring any legal disputes to stay out of the court systems and instead be resolved through private arbitration. While residents often readily agree to such stipulations in order to live in homes that meet their needs and desires, the issue has become contentious for their heirs when they pass away.

The woman at the center of the dispute sued her late father's nursing home after he contracted a fatal infection while living there. Although her father had signed a contract including an arbitration clause when he entered the facility's care, the daughter argued that she never signed such an agreement and was not subject to its stipulations. 

The AARP supported the plaintiff's lawsuit, arguing that the issue was important for elderly individuals who need long-term daily care and their family members. The organization argued that the court should follow precedents that do not require arbitration from those that never agreed to it and should thus rule "that a nursing home resident's heirs are not subject to the terms of a decedent's nursing home arbitration agreement."

The court ultimately disagreed with the plaintiff and the AARP, finding that agreements signed by nursing home residents extend to their heirs. The decision was supported by the Florida Health Care Association, which asserted that granting heirs exemption from such contracts would be "irrational" as it would give those individuals "greater legal rights" than those enjoyed by the deceased residents.

Source: Herald-Tribune, "Nursing home arbitration clause gets a nod in court," Barbara Peters Smith, Feb. 19, 2013

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