MEDIA – The Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County will have to decide if the estate of a woman's wrongful death lawsuit against a care facility is to proceed to arbitration.
ManorCare Health Services at Mercy Fitzgerald filed preliminary objections on May 30 to a third amended complaint submitted by the daughter of a now-deceased resident of the nursing home, arguing that an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff precludes the filing of the lawsuit.
ManorCare claims in its objection that Martha Young, the daughter and administratrix of the estate of Nellie Louise Howard, signed an arbitration agreement when Howard was admitted to the ManorCare facility.
The objection said Young now claims as part of her wrongful death and negligence lawsuit that she had no legal authority to agree to arbitration on her mother’s behalf.
However, ManorCare alleges that legal precedent in Pennsylvania presumes that an “agreement between two or more adults presumptively evinces an accurate expression of the intent of the signatories.”
Under the arbitration agreement signed by Young, which according to language included in the objection binds the facility and its affiliates and “the patient, his/her successors, spouses, children, next of kin, guardians, administrators and legal representatives,” requires all claims like those listed in Young’s lawsuit to be sent to arbitration.
ManorCare said Young signed the arbitration agreement as Howard’s legal representative. In fact, ManorCare said Young not only signed the arbitration agreement on her mother’s behalf, she signed all of the documents required for Howard’s admission to the facility.
According to a memorandum of law in support of its objection, ManorCare is also asking the court to dismiss the portion of Young’s lawsuit that seeks payment of punitive damages in connection with Howard’s death at the nursing home.
“Count one of plaintiff’s complaint demands punitive damages based on factually unsupported, scandalous and impertinent allegations of corporate profiteering and other malfeasance,” ManorCare said in its objection. “These allegations, however, are pure boilerplate.”
On July 19, Judge Charles Burr ordered 60 days of discovery in order to supplement the record on whether the arbitration agreement is enforceable.
The suit says Howard was in need of 24-hour care, due to having difficulty walking, a history of falls, dementia, muscle weakness and unstable balance, among other maladies – but detailed a number of occasions over the following two years where Howard was found on the floor next to her bed, or that she had fallen from her bed.
Ultimately, Howard fell on Feb. 25, 2016, sustaining a fall so severe it required her to be transferred to the Emergency Department at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital – and leaving her as having suffered a transverse fracture massive anterior osteophytosis with extension into the C4 vertebral body extending through the anterior column into the middle column, a breach of the posterior cortex and a preseptal hematoma on her face.
Howard stayed at the hospital until March 3, 2016, at which time she was returned to ManorCare’s hospice care unit, until she passed away on April 22, 2016, resulting from complications linked to cervical fracture, pneumonia and dementia.
Young alleges the facility’s negligent care led to Howard’s untimely death, and asserted claims of negligence, negligence per se, survival and wrongful death in the litigation.
The plaintiff is represented by Thomas J. Bass of The Law Office of Thomas J. Bass, in Philadelphia.