In its opinion dated April 21, 2020, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina (“North Carolina Appellate Court”) stated, “here the admission agreement’s clause expressly reserving the right to a bench trial cannot be read in harmony with the arbitration agreement’s clause expressly foreclosing the same. Given the trial court’s finding that the pages of the arbitration agreement providing all the details of the procedures for arbitration were not presented to Ms. Lightner when she signed its signature page, such an interpretation would be unreasonable.”
The North Carolina Appellate Court further stated, “The trial court found that Ms. Lightner was not presented with the contents of the arbitration agreement other than the signature page and, despite her requests, was unable to avail herself of full printed copies for review at the time she signed the contracts. Thus, this case is not one in which a party had constructive notice of and opportunity to review a contractual provision from which they seek relief.”
The Underlying Facts
On April 30, 2019, the plaintiff filed a complaint on behalf of the decedent’s estate, asserting claims of negligence and wrongful death arising from the nursing home defendants’ allegedly improper response to the decedent’s falls. In response to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendants filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration and Stay Proceedings. The defendants’ motion claimed that the plaintiff was required to arbitrate any dispute related to care of the decedent because Ms. Lightner signed an arbitration agreement on the day the decedent was admitted to the defendant nursing home.
At the hearing on the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, the plaintiff introduced the exhibits from her memorandum into evidence, including Ms. Lightner’s affidavit and the relevant admissions paperwork as exhibits. Notably, the defendants presented no evidence at the hearing in support of their contention that the parties had agreed to arbitration.
The North Carolina Appellate Court held: “The trial court found that Ms. Lightner was not presented with or able to review the contents of the arbitration agreement other than its signature page. The arbitration agreement’s signature page provides no detail on the suggested methods of nonjudicial resolution of disputes between the parties. It fails to even mention arbitration. Rather, the signature page only provides that the parties waive the right to a trial. In contrast, the admission agreement expressly waives the right to a jury trial and reserves the right to a bench trial. Based upon these findings, the trial court correctly concluded that the parties’ arbitration agreement was ambiguous as a matter of law.”
Gay v. Saber Healthcare Grp, L.L.C., No. COA19-964.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in North Carolina or in another U.S. state due to a nursing home fall, nursing home aspiration, nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home under-staffing, or the nursing home failing to properly care for a vulnerable adult, you should promptly find a nursing home claim lawyer in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf or behalf of your loved one, if appropriate.
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