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Arbitration – Nursing Home – Admission Documents – Husband’s Signature – Separate Contracts

Holding: Where a patient was competent and had not executed a power of attorney, her estate is not bound by her husband’s signature on an arbitration agreement, which agreement was separate from the admission agreement the husband signed for the patient on the day before she was admitted to defendants’ nursing home.

We affirm the circuit court’s denial of defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and its denial of defendants’ motion to compel the deposition of the decedent’s husband.

Facts

The late patient, Mable Hodge, was not present at the time her husband signed the admission agreement and the separate arbitration agreement, as she was still in the hospital. Mable was competent at the time of her admission to defendants’ facility; in fact, she signed additional documents on the day she arrived at the facility.

Mable had no health care power of attorney at that time. Her husband signed but left blank a line on the arbitration agreement where he was to indicate his capacity of representation.

Around three weeks after her admission, after complaining of increasingly severe back pain, Mable was not able to feel her legs or arms, was unable to stand, and was ultimately transported to Richland Memorial Hospital, where hospital staff confirmed she was paralyzed from the waist down. Mable never walked again and died one year later as a result of her paralysis.

Equitable Estoppel

The admission agreement indicated it was governed by South Carolina law, whereas the arbitration agreement said it was governed by federal law. The arbitration agreement referenced the two documents separately, stating “Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or in any way relating to this Agreement or the Patient/Resident’s Admission Agreement.”

Also, the arbitration agreement said it could be revoked within 30 days, whereas the admission agreement said it (the admission agreement) could only be amended by written agreement with the facility or if the facility sent a notice of an amendment to the patient and the patient did not reject the amendment within 30 days.

Further, each document was separately paginated and had its own signature page. Additionally, the arbitration agreement stated signing it was not a precondition to admission.

Based on all of this, we find the admission agreement and arbitration agreement did not merge.

Because Mable, her husband, and her estate received no benefit from the arbitration agreement, equitable estoppel would only apply if documents were merged.

The only agreement from which plaintiffs even arguably received a benefit was the admission agreement because Mable was admitted to the facility as a result of it. However, because the facility allegedly caused Mable’s injuries that later led to her death, we find it difficult to find she benefited even from being admitted.

Plaintiffs are not seeking to enforce the arbitration agreement, nor have they previously tried to do so. Further, even if the admission agreement and arbitration agreement merged, because plaintiffs are not suing for a breach of the admission agreement, they are not attempting to enforce that agreement.

Therefore, equitable estoppel did not bar plaintiffs’ claims.

Common Law Agency

The husband’s signing of the arbitration agreement, admission agreement, and other forms does not make him Mable’s agent. Mable did not have a health care power of attorney, and the facility knew she was competent.

The record contains no evidence that Mable, as the principal, represented that her husband was her agent. Further, because Mable was competent, no argument can be made that the Adult Health Care Consent Act gave her husband the right to sign medical forms.

Even if the husband had authority to handle finances or make health care decisions, the authority conveyed by a principal to an agent to handle finances or to make health care decisions does not encompass executing an agreement to resolve legal claims by arbitration, thereby waiving the principal’s right of access to the courts and to a jury trial.

Accordingly, the circuit court did not err in finding that the husband was not Mable’s agent.

Affirmed.

Hodge v. UniHealth Post-Acute Care of Bamberg, LLC (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-027-18, 32 pp.) (Aphrodite Konduros, J.) Appealed from Bamberg County Circuit Court (Clifton Newman, J.) Monteith Powell Todd, John Michael Montgomery, and Robert Horner for Appellants. Joseph Preston Strom, Bakari Sellers, Wallace Lightsey, Meliah Bowers Jefferson, and John Carroll Moylan III for Respondents. S.C. App.

 

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