Ben Locklar, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, successfully defended an attempt to have a nursing home case submitted to binding arbitration. Ben oversees the nursing home litigation handled by our firm. Ben’s client had filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Ala. His clients’ mother had been a resident in Barfield Healthcare, Inc., the operator of the nursing home.
The nursing home filed a motion to stay the proceedings, along with a motion seeking to compel our clients to submit their claims to binding arbitration. Ben opposed the nursing home’s motion. The basis of his objection was that the nursing home resident, at the time she was admitted to a locked-psychiatric facility at the facility, was not competent to make her own medical decisions and was not competent to enter into binding contracts. Many years before, the resident had made a responsible decision by appointing her son as her attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney. The trial court agreed with Ben’s initial request to conduct limited discovery in the case on two primary issues:
A Marshall County psychiatrist who had previously treated our clients’ mother for dementia with probable Alzheimer’s and behavioral disturbances testified that the patient was not competent. The nursing home assistant administrator conceded that the lock-up unit was for patients with cognitive deficits and conceded that the resident was not asked to sign any of the legal documents. The resident’s adult children also testified that their mother was not competent when they admitted her to the facility, that the son had durable power of attorney over his mother’s affairs, and that this information was related to the nursing home prior to and at the time of admission of their mother to that facility.
The nursing home admitted that it knew that the son had the power of attorney over his mother’s affairs and permitted the resident’s daughter to sign and execute all admission agreements, including a dispute resolution agreement. The nursing home’s admission documents also reflected that the son had a durable power of attorney over his mother’s legal affairs.
The Supreme Court of Alabama has made it clear that incompetent adults (and minors) are entitled to a heightened level of protection. When it’s apparent that a nursing home resident (or any other patient) is not competent to make a decision at the time of admission, other family members may not bind that resident or his or her estate to binding arbitration unless the person who signs the arbitration agreement is the resident’s attorney-in-fact or legally appointed guardian.
For years, lawyers at Beasley Allen have been at the forefront of the arbitrative battle at both the state and national levels. It’s unconscionable that a family can be compelled to make a decision to place their loved one into a nursing home facility, a decision that in and of itself is heart-wrenching, and then be told that they can only put their loved one in the facility if they agree to give up a person’s Constitutional right to a trial by jury. The trial court’s decision in this regard was completely correct. We will now move forward with a trial by jury on behalf of our clients. Ben did a very good job for our client’s in this case. If you need more information, contact Ben Locklar at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Locklar@beasleyallen.com.
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