South Carolina Court of Appeals Affirms Denial of Motion to Compel Arbitration in Lawsuit by Representative of Deceased Rehabilitation Facility Patient

In recent years, there has been a trend toward alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration, in some kinds of cases, including South Carolina nursing home abuse cases.

It is important to note that the reason for this trend is not because injured individuals or the families of those who have suffered a wrongful death have willingly and knowingly decided that they would rather have their legal disputes resolved by an arbitrator rather than by a judge and jury. Instead, many would-be defendants have managed to sneak arbitration clauses into the mounds of documents that must be signed at certain health care facilities. Fortunately, not all such alleged “agreements” are enforceable by the courts.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the personal representative of the estate of a woman who became paralyzed while in a rehabilitation center in 2010. A year later, the woman passed away as a result of her paralysis. The personal representative filed suit against the rehabilitation center and one of the woman’s doctors, seeking compensation for alleged medical malpractice. The rehabilitation center filed a motion compelling arbitration, relying upon an arbitration agreement allegedly signed by the woman’s husband. The trial court denied the rehabilitation center’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that the arbitration agreement did not apply. The rehabilitation center’s motion to compel the husband’s deposition was also denied.

Decision of the Court

The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the rehabilitation center argued that there was evidence to the effect that the decedent authorized her husband to sign the agreement in question on her behalf and that there was, therefore, agency established between them, the court pointed out that apparent authority only occurs when the principal, by words or conduct, causes a third person to believe that he or she consents to an act done on his or her behalf by someone purporting to act on his or her behalf. (Simply being married does not amount to agency, as the appellate court pointed out.)

Here, the defendant’s only evidence of agency was that the husband had previously signed contracts on the decedent’s behalf. The appellate court found that, even if the husband had “some authority,” as argued by the rehabilitation facility, the appellate court reiterated its ruling in a previous case that “the authority conveyed by a principal to an agent to handle finances or make health care decisions does not encompass executing an agreement to resolve legal claims by arbitration, thereby waiving the principal’s right of access to the courts and to a jury trial.”

Need to Speak to an Attorney?

If you or a loved one has been a victim of neglect or mistreatment in a South Carolina nursing home, extended care facility, or assisted living center, you need to talk to an experienced nursing home abuse attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation with the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices, call us at 864-582-5118.  For your convenience, we have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville.

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