A nursing home’s practice of presenting an arbitration agreement to each new resident, even if he or she was admitted before, had the effect of nullifying previous agreements, allowing a widow to sue for negligence a court ruled last week.

Robert Bramer was admitted to Louisville’s Golden LivingCenter’s Hillcreek nursing home three times in 2015 and 2016. Each time, the admissions packet contacted an arbitration agreement.

The nursing home said the agreements mean that Margaret Bramer’s claims needed to be handled in arbitration, rather than in court. 

But the district court disagreed. The first agreement had an illegible mark that Bramer’s estate says was a forgery, as his wife swore in an affidavit that neither she nor her husband had signed it. The second agreement has the wife’s signature, but it was placed in the “Signature of Resident” block. The third one, from July 13, 2016, was not signed.

“For the purposes of this opinion we assume that the first two Agreements had some contractual effect,” U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said in a decision Friday. “ … We can reach no conclusion other than that re-presenting the contract to the Bramers was behavior unmistakably showing that no prior agreement controlled … The nursing home here presented the resident-admittee with the same choice multiple times. This action by the nursing home had a legal effect.”

During Robert Bramer’s final stay, he fell out of bed, suffered a head injury and later died. His widow can now proceed with negligence claims, which she had first filed in 2017, the court said. The nursing home is now called Hillcreek Rehabilitation & Care.