North Carolina Nursing Home Tries to Compel Arbitration Against Decedent’s Daughter

handsIn a recent North Carolina nursing home case, the defendants appealed a lower court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration against a plaintiff who brought a lawsuit in her representative capacity as administratrix of her mother’s estate.

The appellate court explained that the plaintiff’s forecast of evidence tended to show that her mother fell in 2007, and due to the fall, she needed surgery. She was admitted to the defendant’s rehab center, where she stayed as a long-term patient under the rehab center’s case.

The defendants required the plaintiff’s mother to sign a form as a precondition to her admission. The contract designated the mother as the “resident” and the plaintiff as the responsible party. The plaintiff signed the admission paperwork and accepted financial responsibility for the mother’s time at the rehab facility. A Special Power of Attorney form was referenced, noting that the resident had appointed the plaintiff as the responsible party. Additionally, a seven-part arbitration clause was signed.

During her stay, the mother’s condition worsened, and she stopped being able to walk without help. In 2011, she left the center but then came back a month later. The plaintiff signed a readmission agreement, which stated the parties’ agreement to stay bound under the other agreement’s terms, including the arbitration provisions.

While at the center, the mother fell and suffered a hip fracture. She was 87 and had to have surgery. While a resident at the center, she fell several additional times, and these caused her physical pain and suffering. In the following year, she died. The plaintiff sued the defendants, claiming negligence, statutory and regulatory rights violations, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

The defendants moved to dismiss or compel arbitration. At the hearing, the defendants argued that the plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration, based on the agreement she’d executed when she admitted her mother into the center. It also argued that it had offered to give services to the mother, and the plaintiff was the responsible party who had accepted the center’s terms. They included copies of the agreements in what they submitted to the court.

The plaintiff claimed the defendants had the burden to show she was the duly authorized power of attorney for the mother at the time. She claimed there was no evidence she signed a power of attorney for her mother.

The defendants claimed that the arbitration agreement included a power of attorney or other legal authority and that this included the plaintiff. The defendants also argued that the trial court should err toward enforcing arbitration. The trial court took the matter under advisement and entered an order in 2016. The court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss certain claims but not others. It also dismissed the motion to compel arbitration.

The defendants appealed. The appellate court explained that the record included all of the documents and that the terms of the agreements were unambiguous. The court decided that the act of signing an admission on behalf of a nursing home resident didn’t entitle the person who signed the agreement to waive a resident’s right to trial, even though the public policy favored arbitration. Parties seeking arbitration need to show that the parties both agreed they would arbitrate. The plain language of the arbitration agreement stated that it applies if the decedent was unable to understand her rights and responsibilities under the agreement or if she couldn’t communicate. There was no evidence to show the decedent was unable to communicate. The decedent had never manifested any type of consent to show that her daughter was acting as her agent. The plaintiff had only agreed to be financially responsible. The lower court’s ruling was affirmed.

If you suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of a nursing home, the experienced North Carolina attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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