Deceased Nursing Home Patient’s Estate Was Not Bound by Arbitration Agreement Signed by Patient’s Son – Thompson v. Pruitt Corporation

A young employee working on a pile of paper works

It seems that the amount of paperwork required in order to be admitted to a hospital, nursing home, or other health care facility grows with each passing year. It can be overwhelming even under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, health care providers can be quite demanding and pushy, shoving papers into a patient’s hands or insisting that a loved one complete them prior to admission.

In many cases, the patient or the family member has no idea what he or she is signing. This is especially true when it comes to arbitration agreements, which have the power to prevent a dispute between the patient and the facility from proceeding to court.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Thompson v. Pruitt Corporation, which arose in the York County Circuit Court, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a woman who died within five hours of being admitted to a nursing home facility. The plaintiff filed suit against several defendants with apparent ownership interests in the facility, asserting claims for wrongful death and a survival action. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, based on an agreement allegedly signed by the deceased woman’s son on his mother’s behalf. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion, and they appealed.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals

The defendants urged the appellate court to reverse the trial court’s order, arguing that the decedent’s estate was bound by the arbitration agreement under the Adult Health Care Consent Act, under common law agency principles, under a third-party beneficiary theory, and under  a theory of equitable estoppel. The court first noted that an appellate court’s review of a lower court’s determination of arbitrability is de novo, but, if any evidence reasonably supported the lower court’s ruling, the appellate court would not overrule such findings.

The court then went on to address the defendant’s grounds for appeal but rejected each in turn. In affirming the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to compel, the court held that the agreement at issue did not require the type of decision for which the Adult Health Care Consent Act confers authority on a surrogate. There was no evidence showing that the decedent’s son had either actual or apparent authority to execute the arbitration agreement at issue. The defendants’ “inextricably intertwined” argument was not relevant, and the theory of equitable estoppel did not apply.

To Get Advice About Your South Carolina Malpractice Case

If you have a question concerning a possible medical malpractice lawsuit or other personal injury case, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at (864) 582-5118 and ask for a free consultation with an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice attorney. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville and serve clients throughout South Carolina. Most cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis, so no legal fees are collected until your case is successfully resolved.

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