Hattiesburg Health & Rehab Center v. Brown – Arbitration Agreement and Nursing Home Neglect

South Carolina nursing homes often require new residents or their close relatives to sign stacks of paperwork upon admission. Increasingly, within this paperwork, are documents that force residents to hand over their constitutional right to have any future torts handled in a court of law.
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Instead, nursing home corporations expect residents who are abused, neglected and suffer from negligence to settle their cases through a process called arbitration. The contracts they are made to sign are called “arbitration agreements.”

The conditions of these agreements are often heavily skewed in favor of the nursing home. While arbitration can end in a result favorable to a plaintiff, the likelihood of success is lesser than in court and the damage awards are often greatly diminished. No wonder nursing homes are compelling people to sign it.

While courts have enforced these agreements, they are increasingly looking at them with a critical eye. In some cases, there is question as to whether the resident lacked the mental capacity to enter into a contract at the time they gave their signature. In situations where spouses or relatives signed for them, arguments have been successfully raised about whether those individuals had the authority to do so on the resident’s behalf. And still in other cases, these agreements have been found to be “unconscionable,” or in other words, so skewed in favor of one party over the other as to be inherently unfair and contrary to the public good.

Some of these arguments were recently raised in the Mississippi Supreme Court case of Hattiesburg Health & Rehab Center, LLC v. Brown.

Here, a man was admitted to a for-profit nursing home home in February 2012. He died just five months later due to complications from a pressure sore. These are sores that develop when patients are largely immobile and staffers fail to regularly turn them or shift their body weight. The result is that pressure builds up at certain points on the skin, and large, painful sores can develop.

The man in this case developed a Stage IV pressure sore (also known as “pressure ulcers), which is when the sore is in the advanced stages, characterized by:

  • Full thickness tissue loss
  • Exposed bone, tendon or muscle

Following his death, his widow filed a wrongful death action alleging negligence, medical malpractice, negligent supervision and retention of staff and deviations from standard of care. She sought compensable damages, pain and suffering and loss of companionship. She also sought punitive damages.

The nursing home responded with a motion to the court to compel arbitration, per the arbitration agreement the widow had signed. Trial court denied this motion, finding widow lacked the authority to sign the agreement on her husband’s behalf (he hadn’t been declared medically incapacitated) and the agreement was unconscionable.

The nursing home appealed and argued that even if she wasn’t formally his health care surrogate, she held herself out as such.

The appellate court affirmed, though it did not reach the issue of whether the agreement was unconscionable. It simply determined there was sufficient evidence the man was not incapacitated at the time he was admitted to the nursing home, and thus his wife had no authority to enter into a contract on his behalf, meaning the agreement was invalid.

Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Hattiesburg Health & Rehab Center, LLC v. Brown, Aug. 13, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Lemaire v. Covenant Care – Nursing Home Abuse Fine Reduced, March 24, 2015, Rock Hill Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Blog

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