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Who Can Bind a Plaintiff to a Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement in Kentucky?

nursing-home-resident-4-29531-mIn a recent case, a long-term care facility appealed from a court order that denied its motion to compel arbitration in a negligence and personal injury case. The case was brought by Ginger Wright, who was appointed full guardian for Mable Damron.

In 2009, Damron entered the defendant’s long-term care facility. Her guardian executed all her admission documents, including an agreement that required her to mediate or arbitrate all claims, including both claims arising from contracts and claims arising from torts, such as negligence or medical malpractice.

The agreement included language in all-caps that stated the person signing the agreement understood he or she was giving up and waiving the constitutional right to have a claim decided before a judge and jury.

In 2012, the guardian filed suit against the long-term care facility, its affiliated companies, and various employees in their work capacities. She alleged that the resident had suffered injuries and asserted negligence, medical negligence, and statutory rights violations. The long-term care facility filed a motion to dismiss or stay the action and compel arbitration as required by that agreement.

The guardian replied the agreement was unenforceable. Among other things, she claimed she didn’t have the authority to execute an agreement that waived the resident’s constitutional right to a jury trial. The trial court denied the facility’s motion to compel arbitration, ruling that Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 387.660 limited the guardian’s authority to waive the right to jury trial. The facility also cited to several Kentucky cases that held a guardian could arbitrate contested claims in order to protect the ward’s interest. However, the trial court did not find that these cases were binding authority.

The facility appealed. The appellate court explained that the Kentucky Uniform Arbitration Act (KUAA) and the Federal Arbitration Act are indicative of public policies that favor arbitration agreements. Under both laws, the entity trying to compel arbitration must show a valid agreement. This issue is governed by state contract law.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that any review of the guardian’s authority had to begin with current statutes. KRS 387.500 et seq. provides the procedure for a disabled person to have a guardian appointed. Among a guardian’s duties are providing for the ward’s care, maintenance, and various services as appropriate in order to give the ward his or her maximum independence.

The trial court had found the right to jury trial was protected by the state constitution and determined the subsection prevented a guardian from waiving this right. However, the appellate court disagreed. It stated that the Kentucky Supreme Court had found that a court-appointed guardian has much broader authority than a power of attorney. A court-appointed guardian is authorized to decide on any matter a ward could decide for himself or herself if he or she were competent, as long as it is in the ward’s best interests and in the way that is least restrictive of the ward.

Accordingly, the court concluded that the guardian in this case had the authority to enter into the agreement on behalf of her ward.

If you have been seriously injured or have lost a loved one due to nursing home abuse, you are likely to feel considerable grief as well as stress about how you will pay the medical bills, the funeral expenses, and other costs. The knowledgeable Kentucky personal injury attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley may be able to help you. Contact us at (270) 781-6500 or via our online form.

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