The family of a woman who died just hours after being admitted to a nursing home prevailed in a recent wrongful death lawsuit appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The court ruled the nursing home could the arbitration agreement signed by the decedent’s son upon her admission was not binding.
Therefore, plaintiffs in Thompson v. Pruitt Corp. will be allowed to proceed with their claim through the courts.
It’s become common knowledge that nursing home arbitration agreements strip away the basic rights of those who have suffered as a result of nursing home neglect and nursing home abuse. They force plaintiffs to resolve disputes in front of an arbitrator, as opposed to a judge or jury. The proceedings and the outcome are confidential. The awards are often much less favorable to the victims. In general, defendants have the upper hand in such matters.
Many courts have upheld these agreements, however, because they are considered legal contracts – even though they are buried in reams of admissions paperwork.
However, the South Carolina Court of Appeals, in deciding the Thompson case, relied on precedent set by the 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court case of Coleman v. Mariner Health Care, Inc. In that case, the court held that an arbitration agreement signed by a health care surrogate is separate from the agreement to admit a patient to a health care facility. It concerned neither health care nor payment for health care – the two primary issues that a health care surrogate is in charge of – but instead an optional method for dispute resolution. Therefore, the surrogate doesn’t have the capacity to bind the patient to a voluntary arbitration agreement.
In the Thompson case, an adult brother and sister had their mother transferred from the Piedmont Medical Center to a nearby nursing home in Rock Hill in January 2011. An employee of the nursing home presented the son with an admission agreement and several other documents to sign on behalf of his mother, who suffered from dementia. His mother was not present at the time of this exchange.
Within five hours of being at the new nursing home, the elderly woman died as a result of falling out of bed. It was blamed on a malfunctioning side rail.
Daughter later filed a wrongful death lawsuit and survival action. The nursing home responded with a motion to compel arbitration.
The circuit court denied that motion on the grounds the decedent’s son – plaintiff’s brother – lacked the legal authority to execute the arbitration agreement on his mother’s behalf. Nursing home asked the court to reconsider, but the court denied that request, so the nursing home appealed.
In its review, the South Carolina Court of Appeals noted that just as in Coleman, the arbitration agreement signed by the son in this case was separate from the admissions agreement. Therefore, whatever authority the son had to sign that arbitration agreement under the Adult Health Care Consent Act.
The nursing home argued that the terms of the admission agreement indicate it incorporated or merged with the arbitration agreement, and therefore was covered by the act. The appellate court disagreed. The AHCCA does not authorize a surrogate to sign an arbitration agreement on a patient’s behalf.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Thompson v. Pruitt Corp., March 2, 2016, South Carolina Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements Can be Tossed, March 14, 2016, Rock Hill Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog