South Carolina Court Holds that Agreement to Arbitrate Nursing Home Negligence Claims Was Unenforceable

Healthcare providers like nursing homes and hospitals generally prefer to arbitrate, rather than litigate, South Carolina medical malpractice claims.

There are several reasons for this, including the likelihood that the damages award paid out to a particular medical malpractice victim (or his or her family, if the patient died) will be substantially lower if an arbitrator – rather than a jury – considers the issues in the case.

Of course, not every agreement to arbitrate is legally enforceable. While many such agreements are upheld by the courts, some are declared unenforceable.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a man who passed away while a patient at the defendant nursing home. After the plaintiff filed a wrongful death and survival action, the defendant sought to compel arbitration. The trial court found that the plaintiff lacked the authority to execute admission documents, including the alleged arbitration agreement, on the decedents behalf. Accordingly, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, and it appealed.

Outcome of the Case

The appellate court affirmed, agreeing with the lower tribunal that the plaintiff lacked the authority to execute the decedent’s admission documents, including the arbitration agreement upon which the defendant relied in its motion to compel arbitration. While acknowledging that the decedent had granted the plaintiff a durable power of attorney for finance, the court noted that this document was not recorded until after the arbitration agreement was signed. Because of this, the court reasoned that the plaintiff did not have authority to sign the arbitration agreement on the decedent’s behalf. In so holding, generally speaking, the court noted that South Carolina law requires that a durable power of attorney be recorded in order to be effective.

With respect to a certain health care power of attorney held by the plaintiff, the court observed that such a document can provide that it will not take effect until after the principal was incapacitated. The decedent’s medical admission forms indicated that he was alert and oriented to time, place, and situation upon his admittance to the defendant’s facility. Thus, there was ample evidence to support the lower tribunal’s finding that the decedent was mentally competent at the time the plaintiff signed the documents in question. Because the decedent was mentally competent to sign the arbitration agreement – but did not – the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision that the plaintiff lacked authority to sign the arbitration agreement.

Consult a South Carolina Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer

The fact that so many negligent acts happen in nursing homes is appalling, simply in and of itself. Add to this the tendency of nursing home owners to attempt to avoid liability and/or minimize any monies paid out the victim of his or her family, and the situation is even more unsettling. To schedule an appointment with a helpful South Carolina nursing home negligence, personal injury, and wrongful death attorney, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices in Spartanburg and Greenville at 864-582-51118 and ask for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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