Court Throws Out Nursing Home’s Arbitration Bid in Patient Death Suit
On Wednesday a Pennsylvania appellate court affirmed the denial of a bid by HCR ManorCare LLC , a nursing home provider, to send to arbitration a lawsuit filed by a patient’s estate administrator, Hattie Lovett, over the death of her husband, McKinley C. Lovett. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled against the ManorCare nursing home over its failure to prove that the deceased’s wife possessed legal authority to sign an arbitration agreement.
A Complaint was filed against ManorCare nursing home on January 17, 2018, alleging corporate negligence, custodial liability, and failure to effectively treat, examine, and care for McKinley Lovett during his 21-day stay at ManorCare (from February 13, 2016, to March 4 of that year).
On February 13, 2016, Lovett was transferred to ManorCare after he suffered a fall. He was diagnosed with malnutrition, skin impairments, and pressure ulcers. On March 4, with consent from his wife, he was discharged and transferred to the home they shared together. She signed the admission paperwork on the day of his discharge, which included the agreement on behalf of her husband.
On February 9, 2018, preliminary objections were filed by ManorCare, including a motion for enforcement of the arbitration agreement.
On February 13, 2016, ManorCare admissions director, Nicole Zimmerman, testified that she admitted McKinley Lovett according to the facility’s policy, which calls for completion and signature of all admission paperwork within 24 to 48 hours after a patient’s admission. Zimmerman was removed from office on January 14, 2019.
Zimmerman stated that she also undertook admission documentation along with Lisa Leggett, the admissions coordinator, but was unsure whether she or Leggett actually completed the paperwork for McKinley Lovett.
Zimmerman testified that both she and Leggett provided the appropriate procedural guidelines to the patient. “You are going to get some admission paperwork signed, permission for…you to be here, permission for us to take care of you, bill your insurance, there’s some additional addendums, there’s the arbitration agreement, transportation, and we go through your insurance,” she reportedly told Lovett.
In her deposition, however, Zimmerman was unable to cite any file notations related to a refusal to sign the documents on the part of McKinley Lovett, or any attempt made by Leggett to contact his wife and designate her as his representative. The documentation was, therefore, deemed to be insufficient evidence given that ManorCare could not produce corroboration.
ManorCare contented, “the trial court erred in refusing to enforce the agreement requiring arbitration of disputes by finding that Hattie Lovett did not have the requisite authority to execute the agreement on behalf of her husband, McKinley Lovett.” The company argued that the trial court’s failures to recognize the Pennsylvania precedent and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) “reflect a liberal policy favoring arbitration of disputes.”
The panel did not agree to ManorCare’s argument that Ms. Lovett possessed the express authority to sign the agreement, citing that Ms. Lovett had limited power of attorney regarding banking procedures.
“Although ManorCare argues that granting Ms. Lovett with the Wachovia Bank power of attorney establishes a course of conduct, we find such argument unavailing for express/actual authority, which requires that Mr. Lovett deliberately and specifically grant[ed] authority to Ms. Lovett to sign the agreement,” stated the panel in an unpublished viewpoint.