TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme
Court has ruled that the residents of nursing homes who lack the capacity to sign
any contract cannot be held accountable to such agreements.
Hampton Court Nursing
Center, which is based in Miami, was sued by the family of one of its patients,
Juan Mendez Sr., and his son, Juan Mendez Jr., for negligence. In response,
the nursing home blocked the lawsuit and cited the arbitration agreement in the
contract the son signed prior to his father’s admission to the facility. While
the lower courts sided with Hampton, the Florida
Supreme Court held that the contract was not valid and could be used
against the father in this case.
“We would never enforce
an admission agreement if a nursing home obtained a resident's signature by
threatening the violent destruction of the resident's property unless the
resident signed the agreement,” wrote Justice James E.C. Perry on behalf of the
majority in the 5-2 opinion. “If we will not enforce a contract when
a party agrees under threat or duress, then we should not enforce a contract in
the absence of the party's agreement altogether.”
The issue started when
the son filed a negligence lawsuit against the nursing home. This came after
his father suffered from an eye infection, which later led to the necessary
removal of his left eye. Before the parties could discuss the matter, however,
Hampton invoked the arbitration provision included in the contract signed by
the son when the nursing home admitted his father.
The nursing home pointed
to the contract signed by the resident’s son in 2009, which included an
arbitration provision, as the basis for its rebuttal in the lawsuit. At the
time, the older Mendez was no longer mentally capable to become the signatory
of contracts under his name. Due to this situation, his son signed the contract
with Hampton on his behalf. That is, he acted as his father’s representative.
Both the lower court and the appellate court confirmed this reasoning from the
In the latest opinion
of the Supreme Court regarding this matter, they held that the son did not have
the authority to sign for his father. The justices pointed out that Mendez Jr.
did not have the power of attorney to execute a contract on behalf of his
father. According to the highest court, the nursing home failed to follow the
proper legal procedure in this situation.
Hampton, according to
the Supreme Court, should have submitted the matter to the courts when they
found that the patient could no longer handle the legal documents involving him
and the facility. The nursing home should have sought a declaration from the
court that Mendez Sr. was mentally incompetent of signing documents.
should have asked for the family to nominate a representative of the patient
and declare the individual as the authorized person to handle the matter. In a
nutshell, the Supreme Court noted that the nursing home should have abided by the legislature’s comprehensive statutory scheme governing incapacitated
Justices Charles Canady
and Ricky Polston dissented; while justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and
Peggy Quince, as well as Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, concurred with the opinion
penned by Perry.