Attribution: Niklas Bildhauer (who also is User gerolsteiner91. [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I signed a bunch of papers on admission – did I bind my parents to an Arbitration Agreement?
It happens all of the time – your loved one is injured and needs long term care at a nursing home or assisted living facility. Your number 1 priority is getting mom or dad care as soon as possible. When you get your loved one in to the facility, they hand you a gigantic stack of papers to sign. Your focus is to get treatment for your loved one, not to read all of these papers. You sign the papers.
Sadly, months later, your loved one is seriously injured from a bedsore, fall or fractured hip. You suspect that the facility was negligent and want to bring a lawsuit. The facility and their corporate ownership allege you are barred from a jury trial because you signed an “arbitration agreement”. You ask yourself, did I bind my parents to an arbitration agreement?
Defendants have burden to prove valid arbitration agreement
In Florida, it is well settled that the party seeking arbitration has the burden of establishing that an enforceable written agreement to arbitrate exists between the parties. See Palm Garden of Healthcare Holdings, LLC v. Haydu, 209 So. 3d 636 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017) (holding evidence supported trial court’s determination that no arbitration agreement existed in a nursing home negligence action).
Likewise, there must be sufficient proof that the parties agreed to arbitrate in order for an arbitration agreement to be enforceable. See Sovereign Healthcare v. Estate of Yarawsky, 150 So.3d 873 (Fla.App.2 Dist. 2014).
To prove the existence of a contract under Florida law, the party seeking to enforce the contract must prove “offer, acceptance, consideration and sufficient specification of essential terms.” See St. Joe Corp. v. McIver, 875 So.2d 375, 381 (Fla. 2004).
A mere offer not assented to does not constitute a contract, for there must be not only a proposal, but an acceptance thereof. See Etheredge v. Barkley, 25 Fla. 814, 817 (1989); see also Bullock v. Harwick, 158 Fla. 834 (1947). So long as a proposal is not acceded to, it is binding upon neither party.
If I sign some papers but don’t have a valid Power of Attorney, am I bound to an arbitration agreement?
In Mendez, the Court held that the estate of a resident of a nursing home was not bound by an arbitration agreement signed by his son, as he son was not his Power of Attorney at the time of execution. Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, 203 SSo.3d 146 (Fla. 2016).
In Mendez, the court rejected the nursing home defendant’s claim that the arbitration agreement was enforceable because the father was a “third party beneficiary” to the contract. Id. at 148. The Court disagreed with this argument:
“Critically, the third-party beneficiary doctrine enables a non-contracting party to enforce a contract against a contracting party—not the other way around. See, e.g., Espinosa v. Sparber, Shevin, Shapo, Rosen & Heilbronner, 612 So.2d 1378, 1380 (Fla.1993); Shingleton v. Bussey, 223 So.2d 713, 715 (Fla.1969). The third-party beneficiary doctrine does not permit two parties to bind a third—without the third party’s agreement—merely by conferring a benefit on the third party. . . .
We have previously held that “[w]e see no reason to allow [the non-contracting third-party beneficiary] to enjoy the benefits of the [contract] without bearing its burdens as well.” Nat’l Gypsum Co. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 417 So.2d 254, 256 (Fla.1982) (holding that the non-contracting third-party beneficiary had to comply with the contract’s pre-litigation notice requirements if the third party wanted to sue to enforce the contract). We distinguish National Gypsum, however, because the third-party beneficiary in that case sued to enforce a contract between other parties; here, the father’s estate sued for negligence and statutory violations—not to enforce the son’s contract with Hampton Court.”
Id. at 149 (emphasis added).
Additionally, in Yarawasky, a defendant nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration against an estate of a resident was denied. In this case, a resident’s wife signed an arbitration agreement without explicit authority to sign on behalf of the resident. Sovereign Healthcare v. Estate of Yarawsky, 150 So.3d 873, 874 (Fla.App.2 Dist. 2014). The Court noted that “no one signed the agreement on behalf of the resident.” The line for the representative of the resident was left blank; instead, the wife signed in the signature block designated for the resident. Id. The Court reasoned that this illustrated there was no evidence that the wife had any authority to sign on behalf of the resident. Id.
What happens if I did sign a valid arbitration agreement – is my case ruined?
NO! Arbitration agreements can result in justice for your loved one as well! If you believe your loved one was injured at a long-term care facility, you need an experienced law firm to fight for justice – whether in a jury trial or an arbitration.
If a loved one was injured, call for a free consultation