Pa. Superior Court rejects petition to compel arbitration in negligence case against medical facility

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 23, 2018

HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania appeals court recently affirmed a trial court’s decision to deny a medical facility’s petition to compel arbitration in dispute with a woman who allegedly fell and broke her leg at the facility, according to a decision filed on March 29 in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

The case was heard by judges Anne E. Lazarus, William H. Platt and Mary Jane Bowes, who wrote the decision.

The case revolves around Elsie Clementson, who filed a lawsuit against Evangelical Manor Wesley Enhanced Living Pennypack Park, alleging negligence and seeking damages for a fractured tibia that she allegedly sustained in a fall while she was a resident at the facility.

The facility moved to compel arbitration, citing a clause in the admission agreement, which was signed by Clementson’s daughter, Joanne Reilly. The agreement said that “any claim for personal injuries for inadequate care or medical malpractice while in the facility are to be resolved ‘exclusively by arbitration,’” according to the appeals court’s decision.

“The agreement explains that this means that the resident is relinquishing her right to a jury trial and will not be able to file a lawsuit,” Bowes said in the decision.

In their review of the case, the appellate judges said they needed to determine whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists before determining whether the dispute was within the scope of the agreement.

“Since arbitration is a matter of contract, a party cannot be compelled to arbitrate unless he or his agent have agreed to do so,” Bowes said in the decision.

The judges held that because Reilly—not Clemenston—signed the responsible person agreement (RPA) and the admission agreement, which contained the mandatory arbitration clause, they needed to determine whether the trial court correctly concluded that Clementson didn’t agree to arbitrate.

“The RPA obligated the responsible person to fulfill the duties of the resident under the admission agreement, most of which were financial in nature and subjected the responsible person to liability for failure to do so,” Bowes wrote in the decision.

However, Clemenston argued that the agreement didn’t give Reilly authority to agree to arbitration on her behalf, according to the appellate court’s decision.

“Ms. Clementson maintains that the facility offered no evidence of any words or conduct on her part at the time that could be construed as conferring authority upon her daughter to bind her to the agreement to arbitrate,” Bowes said in the decision.

The Superior Court sided with the trial court, holding that Reilly didn’t have the authority to agree to arbitration.

“The facility did not allege facts or circumstances or adduce evidence from which one could reasonably infer that Ms. Clementson consented to her daughter signing the admission agreement,” Bowes wrote.

Because there was no evidence of Clementson’s mental and physical condition at the time, the appellate court said it couldn’t determine whether she was mentally or physically incapable of signing the admission agreement herself or mentally competent to authorize her daughter to act as her agent.

“In addition, there is no indication that she was present when the admission agreement was signed, that she knew what it contained or that she was provided with a copy,” Bowes wrote in the opinion.

The appellate court held that Reilly didn’t have authority from her mother to act on her behalf or bind her to the terms of the admission agreement because the admission agreement was between the facility and Reilly.

“There is no evidence that Ms. Clementson authorized Ms. Reilly to agree to arbitrate on her behalf, and thus, no agreement to arbitrate that is binding upon Ms. Clementson,” Bowes said in the decision.

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