With over 46 million people aged 65 or older in the United States, the issue of quality care for the elderly has reached a critical peak. Nursing homes across the country are having to answer tough questions about their practices, and the courts are starting to turn in favor of the American people.
A recent Florida Supreme Court decision reflects this growing sentiment that the elderly should be well-respected and given their full rights under the law. On Thursday, September 22, 2016, justices on the court ruled that a lawsuit concerning injuries sustained at a nursing home should not go to arbitration and should be heard in a court of law.
The Miami-Dade County case revolved around a contract signed by Juan Mendez Jr. after his father, Juan Sr., started receiving care from the Hampton Court Nursing Center. The contract, signed in 2009, stated that if any legal dispute came up it would immediately go to arbitration instead of going through the courts and having a jury decide the outcome of the case.
However in 2011, Juan Sr. dealt with an infection that forced him to have his left eye removed. His son decided to take legal action and brought a lawsuit against the nursing home in support of his father; however, the nursing home continually delayed going to court by arguing that the contract signed should be enforced. Juan Sr. passed away in 2013, and the case was still being delayed by the Hampton Court Nursing Center.
A circuit judge and the 3rd District Court of Appeal sided in favor of the nursing home agreeing that the contract should be honored and that arbitration be used to resolve the case. However, the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in favor of the plaintiff and argued that the father was not subject to required arbitration because the son had verified the contract without asking his father’s permission.
Justice James E.C. Perry wrote the majority opinion for the decision and argued that if the courts would not honor a contract that a person signs under serious duress, then they would not validate a contract that was signed in “the absence of the party’s agreement altogether.”
He also disavowed the notion that the son was acting as his father’s surrogate when he signed the contract. Perry believed that the father was of sound mind and could have appointed someone to be his guardian if the nursing home had given him the option.
He also believed that the father’s mental state had nothing to do with the case and that one cannot use “common law contract principles” to avoid complying with Florida legislature laws regarding guardianship.
Attorney Peter Tragos commented, “This case is just one of many around the country that have confronted the issue of allowing arbitration to stand when a resident or family member signs a contract before admission.”
The facts have obviously varied in each case, but Justice Perry believes that appeals courts have been divided when dealing with situations similar to that of the Mendez’ family. He felt that it was his duty to right the wrong that had been done to Juan Sr. and others like him in Florida and proudly helped overturn the decision.