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Court Holds that Husband’s Signature Binds Wife to Arbitrate Dispute with Nursing Home

By on September 3, 2015 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

In a case that examines the confluence of contract law, agency, and a common healthcare industry practice during patient intake, which may ultimately have repercussions outside of Florida, a panel of the Court of Appeal of Florida, in Fi-Evergreen Woods, LLC v. Estate of Robinson, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 11195 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. July 24, 2015), held that that a nursing home patient was bound by general principles of contract and agency law to arbitrate her dispute with a nursing home after her husband signed her admission documents, which included a mandatory arbitration agreement.

Although the husband was unable to accurately recall the admissions process, the nursing home’s admissions director testified that when she entered the patient’s room, the patient was alert, lying on the bed, and with her husband standing nearby. The admissions director told the patient that she was there with the admissions documents, which needed to be signed. The patient responded that she wanted her husband to review and sign the documents. The husband proceeded to sign the documents, which included an arbitration agreement, in the presence of both his wife and the admissions director.

Relying on Stalley v. Transitional Hospitals Corporation of Tampa, 44 So. 3d 627 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010), the trial court found that the husband was not authorized to sign the arbitration agreement on these facts.  The panel of the Court of Appeal disagreed, find that in Stalley, there was no apparent agency because the patient/principal, never represented that the person who signed the arbitration agreement was authorized to do so.  However, in Robinson, the Court of Appeal found that “the patient/principal . . . expressly told the nursing home’s admissions director that she wanted her husband to handle the documents on her behalf — a clear representation, at least by implication, that she authorized him to do so.”  Robinson, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 11195

In light of such representation and because the nursing home “relied on the [patient/]principal’s representation that her husband was authorized to sign the admission documents for her, and changed its position by accepting the husband’s signature as binding, we find that the patient was bound by her husband’s signature under ordinary principles of contract law and agency.”

The Court of Appeal in Robinson, further rejected the trial court’s determination that the patient’s agent was only authorized to sign contracts or other agreements that were “necessary” for admissions to the facility, of which an arbitration agreement was not necessary.  The appellate court rather held that “an agent can bind a principal to an arbitration agreement just like any other contract.”

Additionally, the court stated that “because dispute resolution documentation has become a regular part of medical facility admissions, we believe that it was reasonable for the nursing home to take the patient’s representation that her husband was authorized to review and sign all of the admissions-related documents, without limitation, as including the arbitration agreement.”

On its face, Robinson is merely a case about the obscure legal relationships of authority between principals and agents, however, its context within the healthcare realm examines the practical reality that friends and families of patients frequently enter into binding agreements on patients’ behalves, oftentimes without a written living will or power of attorney in place.  Moreover, Robinson opens the doors for healthcare providers to include ancillary agreements in its admissions packet which are necessary for admission.  While Robinson suggests that anyone can sign for a patient with the patient’s knowing, oral consent, healthcare providers should nevertheless closely consider the laws relating to living wills, contracts, and principal/agency in the jurisdictions in which they operate to ensure that the person who signs on behalf of a patient possesses the requisite, and binding, authority.

 

Questions regarding this article may be sent to Publications@Capehart.com. 

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