In its opinion dated May 1, 2019, the Court of Appeals of the State of South Carolina (“South Carolina Appellate Court”) affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the defendant nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s nursing home negligence claims (survival and wrongful death claims), holding: “Because we find Decedent was mentally competent to sign the Arbitration Agreement, we affirm the circuit court’s decision that Stott did not have authority under her durable health care power of attorney to sign the Arbitration Agreement. Because neither power of attorney was effective to grant Stott the authority to sign the Arbitration Agreement on Decedent’s behalf, we find White Oak [the defendant nursing home] is unable to compel arbitration of Stott’s claims under the Arbitration Agreement.”
On January 2, 2013, the Decedent was admitted to the defendant nursing home for “rehabilitation [and] possibly long-term care.” The same day as the Decedent’s admission to the defendant nursing home, Stott, acting as the Decedent’s authorized representative, signed the admission documentation, which included the Arbitration Agreement. At the time of the Decedent’s initial evaluation at the defendant nursing home, the defendant nursing home found that he possessed intact mental functioning and that he was alert and oriented to time, place, and situation. The Decedent also correctly answered questions about his location, his age, his birthday, the current date and year, and current and past presidents.
Over the next two weeks, the Decedent was transferred between the hospital and the defendant nursing home multiple times until the Decedent died on January 16, 2013. Hilda Stott (“Stott”) was appointed the personal representative of the estate of Jolly P. Davis (“Decedent”). On December 16, 2015, Stott filed wrongful death and survival actions against the defendant nursing home, alleging that the Decedent was over-medicated and dehydrated which led to his untimely death. The defendant nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration based on the Arbitration Agreement.
At the circuit court hearing, Stott argued her durable power of attorney for finance was ineffective to grant her the authority to sign the Arbitration Agreement on the Decedent’s behalf. The defendant nursing home argued that Stott’s durable power of attorney for finance was effective to authorize her to sign the Arbitration Agreement on the Decedent’s behalf because the Decedent was physically disabled.
The circuit court ruled in Stott’s favor and issued an order denying the defendant nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration. The circuit court found (1) the Decedent had full capacity to sign the Arbitration Agreement at the time of his admission to the defendant nursing home, (2) Stott’s durable power of attorney for finance did not become effective until after Stott signed the Arbitration Agreement because it was not recorded as required by law, and (3) Stott’s healthcare power of attorney did not authorize Stott to enter into the Arbitration Agreement because the Decedent was competent when the Arbitration Agreement was signed. The defendant nursing home appealed.
The South Carolina Appellate Court stated that although a durable power of attorney is traditionally effective upon execution, any durable power of attorney can provide that it will not take effect until the principal becomes incapacitated. Stott’s durable health care power of attorney contains a provision entitled “EFFECTIVE DATE AND DURABILITY” that states, “By this document [Decedent] intends to create a durable power of attorney effective upon, and only during, any period of mental incompetence.” The South Carolina Appellate Court held “there is ample evidence to support the circuit court’s factual finding that Decedent was mentally competent at the time Stott signed the Arbitration Agreement … Because Decedent was mentally competent, we find Stott’s durable health care power of attorney was not effective to authorize her to sign the Agreement on Decedent’s behalf.”
Stott v. White Oak Manor, Inc., Appellate Case No. 2016-001732.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in South Carolina or in another U.S. state due to 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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