Pennsylvania Record

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Ruling: Arbitration agreement void because visually impaired man did not know what he was signing


By Charmaine Little | Jul 30, 2019

Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus |

HARRISBURG -- A vision-impaired man did not voluntarily sign on to an arbitration agreement with a nursing home, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania determined July 16 as it affirmed a lower court’s ruling that overruled the nursing home’s objections.

Judge Alice Beck Dubow ruled on the case. Judges Anne E. Lazarus and Carolyn H. Nichols concurred.

Appellants HCR ManorCare, LLC and ManorCare of Lancaster, Pennsylvania LLC sought relief with the Superior Court after the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County Civil Division overruled its objections. The appellants wanted the lower court to enforce an arbitration agreement that plaintiff and appellee David Herlan signed when he moved into the Lancaster residence. 

But the lower court determined he wasn’t subject to the arbitration agreement due to the manner in which he signed it, and the appeals court backed its decision.

The Superior Court conducted a two-part test to decide if the arbitration agreement should be applied. It first ruled on if there were a valid agreement and, second, it decided if the disagreement fell “within the scope of the agreement.” 

Since both sides agree on the scope of the agreement, the court only looked at the first requirement. It realized Herlan couldn’t read the arbitration himself. Second, the court determined that the administrator did not keep him up to speed on what he was actually agreeing to, or that the arbitration clause even existed.

“These findings set forth clear and convincing evidence that appellant did not knowingly and voluntarily agree to arbitrate his disputes with appellants," the court determined. "Thus, there was no ‘meeting of the minds,’ and the arbitration agreement is not enforceable.”

Herlan’s issues started when he had a car accident in February 2014. He went into the Lancaster facility for rehab, and two months later he broke his right femur when he fell while going to the bathroom without assistance. He then transferred to the ManorCare in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Herlan then sued for negligence, but the appellants said that he was subject to an arbitration agreement and asked the court to enforce it.

Although arbitration agreements are typically cut-and-dried, the Superior Court said that’s not the case in the current matter. It pointed out that Herlan said he couldn’t read the agreements himself. So an administrator helped him and explained the agreements, including the arbitration clause. However, the administrator confessed that she did not identify or explain the arbitration agreement.

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