As a St. Louis personal injury attorney, I was interested to see a nursing home abuse case involving a failed attempt to compel arbitration. This is a common feature of nursing home neglect and abuse cases, because many for-profit nursing homes have started routinely asking patients and their families to sign arbitration agreements when admitted. Unfortunately, arbitration is not necessarily great for the families, because it permits the nursing home to dictate the outcome of the case by sending business to supposedly neutral arbitrators, and also keep the cases out of the public eye, where it might be embarrassed or come under regulators’ scrutiny. But many arbitration agreements are invalidated because of the patient’s age or health or the lack of authority of the signing individual. That was the case in GGNSC Batesville v. Johnson, in which the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Mose Cooper’s sister had no authority to sign such a contract.
Cooper was admitted to Golden Living Center of Batesville in August of 2008. His sister, Catherine Johnson, signed the admissions and arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement says it is executed by Golden Living and Mose Cooper, or Cooper’s representative. The record does not say what health problems led Cooper to the nursing home, but it does say that he lived there for just over a month, and died on Feb. 16, 2009. After petitioning successfully to administrate Cooper’s estate, Johnson sued Golden Living and other entities for wrongful death and negligence not described in this opinion. Golden Living, after a failed federal case, moved in state court to compel arbitration. The state court, after hearing arguments, eventually denied the motion. It found no evidence that Cooper was incapable of managing his own affairs, and that Johnson didn’t have legal authority to sign on Cooper’s behalf.
Golden Living appealed, arguing that Cooper was an intended third-party beneficiary to the arbitration agreement. The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed. The arbitration agreement was signed by Johnson, as Cooper’s representative, but said it was an agreement with Cooper. The parties agree that Johnson had no legal authority over Cooper, so the high court examined whether Johnson had apparent authority over him, as evinced by Cooper’s actions or statements. The court found that no evidence supported that idea; indeed, none was submitted. Thus, it said, Johnson had no apparent authority over Cooper. This in turn means there is no valid contract between Johnson and Golden Living, the court said, and thus Cooper cannot be its third-party beneficiary. As a result, the court found that the estate and relatives of Mose Cooper were not bound by the arbitration agreement, and declined to compel arbitration.
As a southern Illinois injury lawyer, I’m pleased to see that this family will be able to pursue its case. Unfortunately, cases of abuse and neglect in a nursing home pop up in the news fairly often. Arbitration agreements serve the purposes of the home and its parent company, but they rarely help families get what they need—fair financial compensation and a chance to put right whatever went wrong at the home. As a result, arbitration disputes like this happen all over the United States. As a Missouri medical malpractice attorney, I believe open court is usually a better choice for injured patients and their families, because it ensures that a truly neutral judge is in charge of the case. It also makes sure that any facts aired in court are public record, giving other families a chance to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents victims of all types of personal injuries caused by someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you love was hurt in a nursing home or any other type of accident, don’t hesitate to call us for a free consultation. You can send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400.
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