Maryland Court Rules Nursing Home Arbitration Contract Is Void in Maryland Wrongful Death Case

Negligent nursing home care may cause serious injuries or even death, as well as emotional pain for the victim’s family.  Many nursing care facilities in Maryland require patients to execute agreements upon admittance in which they agree to arbitrate any future legal claims against the facility. In a June 27, 2019 Maryland wrongful death case, the validity of such an arbitration agreement was decided by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff’s father and the decedent in the case had resided at the defendant’s nursing care facility before his death.  The day before her father was admitted to the facility, the plaintiff executed an admission contract on his behalf.  The contract required that all disputes arising out of a patient’s stay at the facility be submitted to mediation, and if not resolved through mediation, be submitted to an arbitration process.

Following her father’s death, the plaintiff filed a negligence suit against the defendants in circuit court, alleging that while in the care of the defendant’s facility, her father developed serious health concerns, including bed sores and gangrene, as a result of inadequate medical care.  The plaintiff further alleged that these conditions were caused by the defendant’s negligence, and that the defendant was responsible for causing her father’s death.  After the lower court granted the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, the plaintiff filed an appeal.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that she did not have the authority to sign the arbitration agreement on her father’s behalf.  The defendant responded that, in the absence of a valid and in-effect Advanced Directive or Power of Attorney, the plaintiff was the apparent agent of her father, authorized to make a health care decision on his behalf.

The appeals court concluded that while the decedent manifested a clear intent to grant the plaintiff such authority, the advance directive was not operative at the time the admission contract was executed.  The court found that the decedent had not been certified as incompetent to make his own health care decisions, as required by the directive, noting that the defendant’s physician had evaluated the decedent and found him to be alert, oriented, and competent.  As such, the court held that, without actual or apparent authority to execute an admission contract that included a waiver of jury trial rights, there was no valid or enforceable arbitration agreement.

The court went on to conclude that, even if there was a valid arbitration agreement, the terms and conditions of the arbitration clause were so one-sided and overbearing so as to be unconscionable.  The order of arbitration entered by the circuit was therefore reversed, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings.

If you believe you have a Maryland wrongful death claim due to poor medical care or negligence of a loved one, you may seek advice from the Maryland injury lawyers at Foran & Foran.  We help plaintiffs and injury victims pursue legal recourse against careless businesses, reckless drives, and negligent medical providers in personal injury and medical malpractice suits.  To discuss your case with an experienced accident attorney, contact our law office by phone at (301) 441-2022 or online and request a free legal consultation.