The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”), in a non-precedential decision filed on July 16, 2019, stated that there was “clear and convincing evidence that [a Pennsylvania nursing home resident] did not knowingly and voluntarily agree to arbitrate his dispute with [the defendant nursing home} … Thus, there was no “meeting of the minds,” and the Arbitration Agreement is not enforceable … Accordingly, we discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of Appellants’ Preliminary Objections.”
The Underlying Facts
After suffering injuries due to a traffic accident that occurred while he was driving a motor vehicle, the plaintiff became a resident of the defendant nursing home. While a resident of the defendant’s nursing home, the plaintiff suffered a fracture of his right femur after falling during an unassisted trip to the bathroom. The plaintiff subsequently filed his Pennsylvania nursing home negligence case in which he alleged that the nursing home’s failure to provide proper care caused his injury.
The defendant nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that the parties had entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising from the care the plaintiff received at the defendant nursing home. The trial court determined that the plaintiff had established by clear and convincing evidence that due to his impaired vision, he was unable to read the arbitration agreement presented for his signature and therefore he did not knowingly and voluntarily sign the nursing home’s arbitration agreement.
The nursing home appealed the trial court’s refusal to compel arbitration, arguing that the trial court erred where the plaintiff, two weeks removed from being the licensed driver in a motor vehicle accident, sought to advance the defense that two weeks later, when he signed the arbitration agreement, he had a visual incapacity that made him incapable of reading and understanding the arbitration agreement.
Pennsylvania Appellate Court Decision
The Pennsyvania Appellate Court stated that the evidence before the trial court included testimony that due to the plaintiff’s visual impairment, he relied on the defendant nursing home’s administrator to explain the content of the admission documents requiring his signature (the administrator placed an “X” where he needed to sign the documents). According to the plaintiff, the administrator never identified or explained that one of the documents was the arbitration agreement.
The plaintiff’s medical records stated that he suffered from diabetes, cataract, and macular degeneration resulting in “moderately impaired” vision, defined as “limited vision; not able to see newspaper headlines but can identify objects.” The defendant nursing home’s administrator testified that she had not read the plaintiff’s medical chart, did not know that he was visually impaired, and was unaware that he could not read. The administrator testified that it was her general practice to explain each document required for admission to the facility; however, regarding the nursing home’s arbitration agreement, the administrator acknowledged that she did not read or explain specific provisions of the arbitration agreement to the plaintiff.
The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held that these findings set forth clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff did not knowingly and voluntarily agree to arbitrate his dispute with the defendant nursing home. Therefore, there was no meeting of the minds as to the arbitration agreement and the defendant nursing home’s arbitration agreement is not enforceable.
Source Herlan v. HCR Manorcare, LLC, J-A02016-19.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home understaffing, 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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