Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Court Upholds Arbitration Agreement in a Nursing Home Malpractice Case

In the case of Dougherty v. Scranton Health Investors, LLC, No. 2014-CV-5245 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Feb. 1, 2024 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed Preliminary Objections filed by the owner and operator of a skilled nursing home facility seeking to compel the Plaintiff to submit this litigation to binding Arbitration pursuant to an Arbitration Agreement.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff commenced this survival action against the facility where her mother allegedly fell and suffered a fractured hip. In the lawsuit, the Plaintiff sought to recover damages for the pain and suffering that the mother endured prior to her death due to unrelated conditions.

According to the Opinion, approximately one year before the mother’s admission to the facility, the mother and her daughter executed a Durable Power of Attorney that granted the daughter the express authority to authorize the mother’s admission to such a facility and to execute agreements related to the mother’s care.

Almost two (2) years after the mother’s admission to the facility and pursuant to the authority granted the Durable Power of Attorney, the daughter executed a “Resident Facility Arbitration Agreement” under which it was agreed that any claims against the facility or its employees for negligence or malpractice to binding arbitration and to specifically waive the right to have such claims decided by a judge or a jury.

After the Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, the facility’s owner filed Preliminary Objections seeking to compel the Plaintiffs to submit the matter to binding arbitration. 

Judge Nealon reviewed the law on the issue and ruled that a litigant’s claims are to be submitted to arbitration if a valid agreement to arbitrate exists between the parties and the claims at issue fall within the scope of that agreement. The court noted that, even if a party has not signed an Arbitration Agreement, the party can be compelled to arbitrate under such an agreement based upon the law of agency and contract. The court noted that a valid Durable Power of Attorney constituted a grant of express authority to act as another’s agent.

Here, the court found that the facility’s owner established by a preponderance of the evidence that the mother had granted her daughter the authority to execute the arbitration agreement at issue, and that the survival claims asserted in this lawsuit were within the scope of that arbitration agreement.

Consequently, the court sustained the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections and directed the parties to instead submit the claims at issue to binding arbitration.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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