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Nebraska Supreme Court Refuses to Compel Arbitration in Nursing Home Case

by Victoria VanBuren
November 2009

From the Disputing Blog of Karl Bayer, Victoria VanBuren, and Holly Hayes.

Victoria VanBuren

The present case comes as the U.S. Congress considers the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act of 2009. This Act would render pre-dispute arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts unenforceable (Senate version: S.512 and Status; House version: H.R. 1237 and Status).

In Koricic v. Beverly Enters., 278 Neb. 713 (No. S-08-1167), Frank Koricic took his elderly mother, Manda Baker, to Beverly Hallmark (now operating as Beverly Enterprises), a nursing home in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2005, upon her admission into the facility, Koricic signed several documents for his mother, including an optional arbitration agreement.

Baker died in 2007, she allegedly sustained injuries and pain and suffering because of Beverly Hallmark’s negligence. Koricic sued Beverly claiming negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. Beverly moved to compel arbitration of the claims. The district court concluded that the arbitration agreement was enforceable against Baker’s estate because Koricic had actual authority to sign the arbitration agreement. Koricic now appeals.

The Nebraska Supreme Court stated that whether an agency relationship exits and the scope of that authority are questions of fact. The court found that Baker was an immigrant from Croatia and had limited ability to read, speak, or understand English. Koricic often had to explain the documents to her, but he only took action upon Baker’s direction. Also, Baker was never declared incompetent nor granted Koricic power of attorney over her affairs. When Baker was admitted into the nursing home, Koricic signed the paperwork at an office, outside of Baker’s presence and Koricic never discussed the content of the admission papers with her.

The court discussed agency law principles (actual and apparent authority) and stated that “nothing in the record suggests that a reasonable person should have expected an arbitration agreement to be included with admission documents for a nursing home.”

The court held that Koricic did not have the authority to enter into an arbitration agreement on behalf of his mother because it was not a condition of admission. Accordingly, it remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Biography


Victoria VanBuren holds a B.B.A. in Finance from Southern Methodist University and a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.  She focuses on intellectual property law and arbitration. Known as a "worker bee," she is an active legal blogger and is currently pursuing a degree in computer science. Prior to joining the team at Karl Bayer, Victoria worked at a boutique intellectual property law firm in Austin. She is well versed in computer hardware and programming languages: Assembly, C/C++, HTML, XHTML, XML, Perl, JavaScript, and PHP.

While in law school, Victoria was a Graduate Research Assistant for Professor John S. Dzienkowski, from The University of Texas at Austin. She was responsible for selecting cases for inclusion in the textbook International Petroleum Transactions. Victoria was particularly involved in researching the areas of international business litigation and arbitration. She also performed extensive research on political and economic risks within the context of international licensing agreements.

Having lived and studied in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S., Victoria brings a unique perspective to Karl Bayer. Right after high school, Victoria moved to Canada to study English and French. Born and raised in Mexico, she is a native Spanish speaker and a graduate of the Monterrey Institute of Technology (Instituto Tecnologico y the Estudios Superiores de Monterrey), where she concentrated in Physics and Mathematics.

Professional Activities

- American Bar Association, Young Lawyers
- American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)
- Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN)
- National Hispanic Bar Association (NHBA)
- State Bar of Texas, Intellectual Property



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