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Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable in Suit by Patient’s Son Against Massachusetts Nursing Home – Barrow v. Dartmouth House Nursing Home, Inc.

Research

Unfortunately, acts of negligence and medical malpractice are all too common in nursing homes. In an attempt to control costs associated with litigation, many long-term care facilities encourage patients and their family members to sign agreements to arbitrate any claims that arise from the patient’s care. The enforceability of these agreements has become a frequently litigated issue.

In the case of Barrow v. Dartmouth House Nursing Home, Inc., the plaintiff was a man who had signed an arbitration agreement on behalf of his elderly mother, then 96 years old, when she entered a nursing home for care. After his mother died at the facility, the plaintiff, acting as executor of his mother’s estate, sued the facility, alleging negligence, lack of informed consent, and breach of contractual, implied, and express warranties. He sought damages under the wrongful death statute, Mass. G. L. ch. 229, § 2.

At the request of the nursing home, the trial court compelled arbitration. The arbitrator found in favor of the nursing home. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s order confirming the arbitrator’s decision. Upon consideration, the appellate court vacated the trial court’s order.

The Allegations Against the Nursing Home

According to the plaintiff’s complaint, his mother was beaten, strangled, and asphyxiated with a plastic bag by her roommate, a 97-year-old woman with an alleged propensity for violence. Prior to his mother’s entry into the nursing home, the son had signed an arbitration agreement on her behalf along with other admission papers. The agreement was not a prerequisite for admission into the nursing home.

What the Court Decided About the Arbitration Agreement

The court concluded that the son did not have authority to sign the agreement to arbitrate when he signed it on his mother’s behalf. The doctrine of equitable estoppel did not apply because had signed the document on his mother’s behalf, not in his individual capacity. Consequently, the son, in his capacity as executor of his mother’s estate, was permitted to seek redress in court for his mother’s allegedly violent and unnatural death while in the nursing home’s care.

In so holding, the court noted that the son did not have a durable power of attorney and was not acting as his mother’s guardian or conservator. In prior decisions, the Supreme Judicial Court has held that a health care proxy is insufficient to authorize a health care agent to sign an arbitration agreement. Here, the court found no evidence that the mother specifically authorized the son to sign the arbitration agreement.

If You or a Loved One Has Been Injured by Another Person’s Negligence

Sometimes, an injured person or a deceased person’s family is uncertain as to whether they can legally bring suit in court against the party who caused the injury or death. This may be because the person signed an arbitration agreement or saw a sign on the wall of a business that said, “Not responsible for injuries.” Sometimes, an opposing party does have a legitimate defense to a lawsuit, but often these things are just a discouragement to litigation and nothing more. If you would like to find out whether you have grounds to sue, call the Law Office of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 or contact us through the form on our website.

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Massachusetts Insurance Company Liable for All Tort-Related Costs in Unfair and Deceptive Settlement Case — Rivera v. Commerce Ins. Co.