South Carolina Appellate Court Rejects Nursing Facility’s Attempt to Force Deceased Patient’s Estate into Arbitration

More and more often, nursing homes, assisted living centers, and the like are requiring patients and their families to sign binding arbitration agreements prior to a patient’s admittance. Nursing homes do this because they do not want a jury to hear a South Carolina nursing home abuse case in which they are accused of negligently or recklessly injuring or killing a patient. Fortunately, not all of attempts to deprive a patient or his or her family of their day in court are successful.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the niece and personal representatives of the estate of a man who allegedly died due to the negligence of the defendant skilled nursing facility in 2013. (The plaintiff was also the personal representative of the decedent’s statutory beneficiaries.) The defendant sought to compel arbitration of the plaintiffs’ claims based upon an arbitration agreement allegedly signed by theĀ  niece, who allegedly signed the agreement (along with other admission documentation) pursuant to a durable power of attorney for finance and a durable health care power of attorney (neither of which were recorded at the time that the documents were signed). (Notably, the defendant’s initial evaluation of the decedent showed that he possessed intact mental functioning and was alert to time, place, and situation.)

The Spartanburg County Circuit Court declined the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s wrongful death and survival actions, holding that the decedent’s niece lacked the authority to execute the admission documents upon which the defendant relied.

Decision of the Court

The State of South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. Although the defendant argued that the plaintiff niece had the authority to sign the arbitration agreement on the decedent’s behalf based on a valid durable power of attorney for finance, the appellate court disagreed. Noting that the holder of a power of attorney steps into the shoes of the grantor such that he or she is basically the “alter ego” of the grantor, the court pointed out that, in order to be effective in South Carolina, a durable power of attorney had to be recorded. Although the POA in question was eventually recorded, the fact that it was recorded after the arbitration agreement was signed rather than before was a controlling factor in the court’s decision.

In so holding, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the durable POA was nevertheless effective because of an “opt out” clause under which the signer had a certain amount of time – during which the POA in dispute was recorded, rending it legally effective – in which to opt out of the agreement. According to the court, the language “remain in full force and effect” unless the signor opted out during the applicable period meant that the agreement had to be valid at the time that it was signed, not later during the opt out period.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Case

If you believe that your loved one has suffered personal injuries or wrongful death due to mistreatment or neglect at a nursing home or similar facility, the experienced nursing home abuse legal team at the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices can help you understand the process of filing a claim against the negligent facility. For an appointment in our Greenville or Spartanburg offices, call us at 864-582-5118.

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