Making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home can be difficult. A recent nursing home abuse case reminds Kentucky residents who seek nursing home care to carefully review their admission documents. In Brookdale Senior Living Inc. v. Hibbard, a woman filed a personal injury lawsuit in a Fayette County court against a nursing home where she allegedly received neglectful care. Prior to entering the senior living facility, the woman’s husband signed a mandatory agreement to arbitrate any and all future disputes with the company. In response to the woman’s negligence lawsuit, the facility filed a motion to compel the lawsuit to arbitration in the Eastern District of Kentucky. The plaintiff responded by arguing the arbitration agreement was both invalid and unenforceable and the federal court should not hear the case due to her pending state court action.
Although a federal court may choose not to exercise jurisdiction over a matter that is pending in state court, the Eastern District of Kentucky stated doing so was the exception and not a requirement. After balancing several factors, the federal court determined it would exercise jurisdiction over the negligence lawsuit. Next, the court examined the woman’s claims that the arbitration agreement should not be enforced. After noting that public policy generally favors arbitration, the Kentucky court examined the agreement itself. According to the court, the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable because each clause the woman pointed out as unacceptable was expressly severable from the rest of the agreement. The court continued by stating that whether any terms of the agreement are unconscionable is for an arbitrator to decide.
Finally, the federal court addressed the woman’s argument that the agreement to arbitrate should not be enforced because a durable power of attorney did not provide her husband with the authority to bind her. Although the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that an agent’s actions may be invalid where the legal consequences for the principal are significant, the durable power of attorney itself specifically listed the power to arbitrate on the woman’s behalf. Because the arbitration agreement was valid and covered the scope of the claims asserted in her lawsuit, the Eastern District of Kentucky compelled the case to arbitration and enjoined the state court case.
Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. During arbitration, one or more third parties will listen to the facts of a dispute and issue a binding decision. When a nursing home resident signs a binding arbitration agreement, he or she gives up the right to a trial before a jury. It is increasingly common for nursing homes and other long term care facilities to ask or require residents to sign a binding agreement to arbitrate their future personal injury and other claims against the facility. It is important to carefully review all nursing home admission documents prior to signing them in order to protect your constitutional right to a trial before a jury.
If you or a loved one suffered abuse or neglect at a Kentucky nursing home, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. To discuss the facts of your case, please call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 or contact us through our website.
Brookdale Senior Living Inc. v. Hibbard, Dist. Court, ED Kentucky 2014
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