Does a Family Member Have the Right to Sign Away a Nursing Home Patient’s Right to Sue?

Ohio Nursing Home Guide

It is unknown how many of our vulnerable elderly fall victim to neglect or abuse each year since such actions are easily hidden from view and underreported. In fact, according to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA), 84 percent of abusive situations involving older adults go unreported or unrecognized.

    One of the major barriers to addressing nursing home abuse and neglect in the Cleveland area is the widespread use of mandatory arbitration agreements by nursing homes. The idea behind these agreements is simple: Get the patient, or someone acting on their behalf, to sign a document agreeing to refer any dispute arising from the patient’s care–including cases of abuse or neglect–to an arbitrator instead of a court. In theory, arbitration is supposed to be a quicker, less expensive alternative to traditional litigation. But in practice, arbitration often cuts corners with respect to due process and unduly favors the nursing home.

    Court Enforces Arbitration Agreement Based on Daughter’s “Apparent” Authority

    Unfortunately, Ohio courts tend to favor enforcement of arbitration agreements. Consider this recent decision by an Ohio appeals court panel, Alford v. Arbors at Gallipolis. In this case, a now-deceased man was admitted to the defendant’s nursing home in 2015. At the time of admission, the decedent’s daughter signed a variety of admission forms, which included a mandatory arbitration agreement. The decedent passed away about a year after his admission.
    Another year later, in 2017, the daughter, now acting as personal representative of her father’s estate, sued the defendant for negligence. The lawsuit alleged the decedent died as the result of choking on food while under the defendant’s care. The estate therefore sought damages on behalf of the decedent’s next of kin under Ohio’s wrongful death statute.
    The lawsuit actually named multiple defendants, including individuals who worked at the nursing home as well as various corporate entities. The two principal corporations in charge of the nursing home moved to stay the lawsuit pending arbitration. The estate requested 60 days to conduct discovery in order to obtain the decedent’s admissions documents and depose “everyone involved in the admission process.” The defendants argued this was unnecessary since the personal representative herself signed the admissions forms and arbitration agreement.
    The trial court sided with the defense and ruled the case should “stayed pending arbitration.”
    The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s decision. The appellate panel rejected the daughter’s contention that she lacked the authority to sign a binding arbitration agreement on her father’s behalf. Although the daughter did not cite any particular source for her authority at the time she signed the agreement, she nevertheless certified that the defendants “may reasonably rely upon the validity and authority of the Representative’s signature based upon actual, implied or apparent authority to execute this Agreement.” As far as the courts were concerned, that was good enough.

    Contact a Cleveland Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawyer Today

    It’s scary to think that we can lose our legal rights without ever realizing it. But this is the reality many nursing home patients and their families face every day. That is why it is important to speak with a qualified Cleveland nursing home abuse and neglect attorney if you have any questions or concerns regarding the law in this area. Contact Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 308-1522 if you need help today. We serve clients in Cleveland, Lakewood, Elyria, Chardon, Sandusky and surrounding areas.

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