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FIGHTING YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE DESPITE SIGNING A WAIVER

On June 27, 2013 the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that, despite a plaintiff having signed an agreement contain in limitations to sue, that plaintiff can nullify such an agreement if that agreement is unconscionable (i.e. grossly unfair).

This particular case involved nursing home abuse, which can devastate a victim and family. If you or a loved one is the victim of nursing home, do not be afraid to seek justice even if you signed something you think might hurt your case.

A portion of the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision follows:

"In this case we address which party has the burden to prove that a contract is unconscionable and, therefore, unenforceable. Plaintiff Nina Strausberg signed an arbitration agreement as a mandatory condition of her admission to the Arbor Brook Healthcare nursing home. Despite having signed the arbitration agreement, Plaintiff subsequently sued Arbor Brook and several other defendants for alleged negligent care.

Defendants moved the district court to compel arbitration and to dismiss Plaintiff's case. In response, Plaintiff argued that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. The district court found that Plaintiff had failed to prove unconscionability and, therefore, granted Defendants' motion to compel arbitration.

The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the district court erred by putting the burden on Plaintiff to prove unconscionability. Strausberg v. Laurel Healthcare Providers, LLC, 2012-NMCA-006, ¶¶ 21, 23-24, 269 P.3d 914. The Court of Appeals held that "when a nursing home relies upon an arbitration agreement signed by a patient as a condition for admission to the nursing home, and the patient contends that the arbitration agreement is unconscionable, the nursing home has the burden of proving that the arbitration agreement is not unconscionable." Id. ¶ 20.

We disagree and hold that Plaintiff has the burden to prove that the arbitration agreement is unconscionable because unconscionability is an affirmative defense to contract enforcement, and under settled principles of New Mexico law, the party asserting an affirmative defense has the burden of proof. We also hold that the Court of Appeals' holding is preempted by federal law because it treats nursing home arbitration agreements differently than other contracts. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case to the Court of Appeals to determine whether the district court erred by granting Defendants' motion to compel arbitration."

Strausberg v. Laurel Healthcare Providers

If you have a personal injury case, but you are worried about having signed a document that may prevent you from seeking justice from a wrongdoer, call the attorneys at McGraw & Strickland at (575) 323-1529.

Las Cruces, NM

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