Nursing home residents unbound by unsigned contracts, says Florida Supreme Court

By Michelle de Leon | Dec 4, 2016

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.

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 nursing home.

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.

Subsequently, they 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 individuals.

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.

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