Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing order of the circuit court denying the motion of Legacy Health Services, Inc. Cambridge Place Group, LLC, and Cambridge Place Properties, LLC (collectively, Defendants) to dismiss or stay this lawsuit and compel arbitration of the medical malpractice claims brought by Christopher Jackson, as guardian for Christine Jackson, his mother, holding the court of appeals erred.At issue was whether Christopher possessed the authority, as his mother's guardian, to enter a voluntary arbitration agreement that was not a prerequisite to the provision of care or services to his ward. The circuit court concluded that Christopher did not have that authority. The court of appeals reversed, holding that a guardian's authority to enter into contracts generally is within the ambit of what is reasonably inferable from the relevant statutes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) guardians have the authority to bind their wards to contracts that limit or deprive the civil rights of their wards only to the extent necessary to provide needed care and services to the ward; and (2) because the arbitration agreement was not necessary to provide care or services to Christine, Christopher lacked the authority to enter into the arbitration agreement. View "Jackson v. Legacy Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Joanna Grabowski brought claims for medical malpractice against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Southern California Permanente Medical Group, and various associated physicians (collectively, Kaiser). The claims were heard by an arbitrator, pursuant to a contractual arbitration agreement. After a contested hearing, the arbitrator awarded judgment in favor of Kaiser. Grabowski petitioned the trial court to vacate the arbitration award, alleging: (1) the arbitrator committed misconduct, and revealed disqualifying bias, by engaging in an ex parte communication with Kaiser’s counsel about Grabowski’s self-represented status; (2) the arbitrator failed to disclose two matters involving Kaiser where he was selected as an arbitrator; and (3) the arbitrator improperly denied Grabowski’s request for a continuance of the arbitration hearing. The trial court found that “the arbitrator’s conduct did not rise to a level that substantially prejudiced [Grabowski’s] rights” and dismissed her petition. Grabowski appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal agrees the award should have been vacated. The Court concluded the arbitrator committed misconduct on several levels, at least one required vacating the arbitration award. The ex parte communication between the arbitrator and Kaiser’s counsel was recorded by Grabowski’s mother as part of her effort to document the arbitration hearing; the audio recording revealed comments by the arbitrator making light of Grabowski’s self- representation and her inability, in the arbitrator’s view, to effectively represent herself. The arbitrator volunteered these comments to Kaiser’s counsel, ex parte, and “they shared a hearty laugh about Grabowski’s perceived shortcomings as an advocate.” Because the arbitrator was aware of this communication and did not disclose it to Grabowski, the award had to be vacated. View "Grabowski v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned the enforceability of an arbitration agreement executed between Ashley River Plantation, an assisted-living facility, and Thayer Arredondo, the attorney-in-fact under two powers of attorney executed by Hubert Whaley, a facility resident. When Whaley was admitted into the facility, Arredondo held two valid powers of attorney, a General Durable Power of Attorney (GDPOA) and a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA). Arredondo met with a facility representative and signed various documents in connection with Whaley's admission. During that meeting, the facility representative did not mention or present an arbitration agreement to Arredondo. Later that day, after Whaley was admitted, Arredondo met with a different facility representative who, according to Arredondo, told her she "needed to sign additional documents related to [her] father's admission to the facility." Included among those documents was the arbitration agreement, which Arredondo signed. The arbitration agreement contained a mutual waiver of the right to a trial by judge or jury, and required arbitration of all claims involving potential damages exceeding $25,000. The agreement barred either party from appealing the arbitrators' decision, prohibited an award of punitive damages, limited discovery, and provided Respondents the unilateral right to amend the agreement. Two years into his stay at the facility, Whaley was admitted to the hospital, where he died six years later. Arredondo, as Personal Representative of Whaley's estate, brought this action alleging claims for wrongful death and survival against Respondents. The complaint alleged that during his residency at the facility, Whaley suffered serious physical injuries and died as a result of Respondents' negligence and recklessness. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals held the arbitration agreement was enforceable. The South Carolina Supreme Court held neither power of attorney gave Arredondo the authority to sign the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the court of appeals was reversed. View "Arredondo v. SNH SE Ashley River Tenant, LLC" on Justia Law

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In November 2007, Marten performed surgery on Doe’s face and neck. In June 2008, Doe sent Marten a letter stating she was considering suing him and demanded that he preserve her documents, files, and photos. In November, Doe’s attorney served Marten with a written demand for arbitration pursuant to a Physician-Patient Arbitration Agreement. In January 2009 Marten’s counsel responded, identifying an arbitrator, without questioning the origin of the agreement or disputing that Marten had signed it. The applicable one-year statute of limitations ran in March 2009. (Code Civ. Proc.340.5) In May 2009, Merten subpoenaed and obtained the records of Dr. Daniel, whom Doe earlier consulted. Located within Daniel’s records was a signed arbitration agreement. Nearly three years later, Marten’s counsel first confronted Doe with the arbitration agreement and refused to continue with the arbitration.Doe sued for medical malpractice and medical battery. The court overruled dismissal motions, finding triable issues as to whether equitable tolling or equitable estoppel disallowed the statute of limitations defense. The court imposed sanctions after hearing evidence that Marten destroyed electronically stored information. After the close of evidence, the trial court dismissed the medical battery claim. On the malpractice claim, the jury awarded over $6.3 million in damages. The court then found the malpractice claim time-barred. The court of appeal reversed in part. The medical malpractice claim was not time-barred because Merten’s conduct actually and reasonably induced Doe to refrain from filing a timely action. View "Doe v. Marten" on Justia Law

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Bernard Norton, by and through Kim Norton, brought a wrongful death action against a number of defendants who were affiliated with a nursing home in which his wife, Lola Norton, died. Bernard claimed that negligent treatment caused Lola’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and Bernard appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and entered into by a decedent and/or her power of attorney, which bound the decedent and her estate to arbitration, was also enforceable against the decedent’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action. The Court found that such an arbitration agreement did bind the decedent’s beneficiaries with respect to their wrongful death claims, and, accordingly, reversed the Court of Appeals. View "United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton" on Justia Law

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Robert King signed an arbitration agreement at the time of his initial appointment with Dr. Michael Bryant, who was to perform a bilateral inguinal hernia repair on King. In the course of the surgery, Bryant injured King’s distal abdominal aorta, resulting in complications. King and his wife, Jo Ann O’Neal (together, Plaintiffs) filed a complaint against Bryant and Village Surgical Associations, P.A. (collectively, Defendants). Defendants filed a motion to stay and enforce the arbitration agreement. The trial court denied Defendants’ motion to enforce the arbitration agreement, concluding that the agreement was too indefinite to be enforced. The court of appeals reversed. On remand, the trial court again declined to enforce the arbitration agreement, concluding that it was the product of constructive fraud and was unconscionable and, therefore, was unenforceable. The court of appeals affirmed on unconscionability grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable on breach of fiduciary duty, as opposed to unconscionability, grounds. View "King v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Lualhati Crespo and her husband filed a complaint against Petitioners, Dr. Eileen Hernandez and Women’s Care Florida, after their son was delivered stillborn. Petitioners filed a motion to stay proceedings and compel binding arbitration pursuant to a medical malpractice arbitration agreement between Mrs. Crespo and Petitioners. The Fifth District Court of Appeal concluded that the agreement was void as against public policy. The Supreme Court approved the decision below, holding that the arbitration agreement was void and violated public policy because it included statutory terms favorable only to Petitioners, thereby disrupting the balance of incentives the Legislature carefully crafted to encourage arbitration. Remanded. View "Hernandez v. Crespo" on Justia Law

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On her father’s behalf, Debra Tarvin signed a nursing home Admission Agreement which contained an arbitration provision. After her father Caldwell Tarvin died, she brought a wrongful-death suit against the nursing home, CLC of Jackson, LLC d/b/a Pleasant Hills Community Living Center (“Pleasant Hills”). Caldwell was admitted to Pleasant Hills in August 2007, and Debra signed an Admission Agreement as Caldwell’s “Responsible Party.” Janet Terrell and Annette Tarvin also signed the Agreement as “Family Members” but Caldwell himself did not sign the Agreement. Pleasant Hills moved to dismiss the proceedings and to compel arbitration. Debra responded and argued that Pleasant Hills had waived its right to compel arbitration by participating in the litigation. Debra also argued that Pleasant Hills had “completely ignore[d] the issue of whether or not Mr. Tarvin’s family members had the legal authority to bind him to an arbitration agreement[.]” Specifically, Debra argued that there was “no legal authority, such as a power of attorney or conservatorship” by which she could bind her father to the arbitration agreement, nor could she bind him under the Uniform Healthcare Decisions Act, because “the record is devoid of any evidence” that the physicians relied upon by Pleasant Hills were Caldwell’s primary physicians. The trial court granted Pleasant Hills' motion, and Debra appealed. The relevant statutes at play here were codified as the “Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act,” Mississippi Code Section 41-41-201 to 41-41-229 (the “Act”). The Supreme Court's review of this case found that Act required determination by a primary physician that an individual lacks capacity before a “surrogate” properly can make a healthcare decision for that individual. The record here did not support a finding that a certain "Dr. Thomas" was Caldwell’s primary physician. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s order compelling arbitration and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Tarvin v. CLC of Jackson, LLC d/b/a Pleasant Hills Community Living Center" on Justia Law

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In 2011, 74-year-old Garnell Wilcoxon lived alone. He suffered a stroke, awoke on the floor of his bedroom covered in sweat, feeling sore and with no memory of how he got there. Wilcoxon was admitted to the Troy Regional Medical Center for analysis and treatment for approximately one year before he died. Following Wilcoxon's death, Brenda McFarland, one of Wilcoxon's daughters, filed a complaint as the personal representative for Wilcoxon's estate, asserting claims for : (1) medical malpractice; (2) negligence; (3) breach of contract; (4) negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention; and (5) loss of consortium. In its answer, Troy Health asserted, in part, that McFarland's claims were barred from being litigated in a court of law "by virtue of an arbitration agreement entered into between plaintiff and defendant." Troy Health then moved to compel arbitration, asserting that forms signed by one of Wilcoxon's other daughters, acting as his attorney-in-fact, contained a valid and enforceable arbitration clause. McFarland argued that "Wilcoxon did not have the mental capacity to enter into the contract with [Troy Health,] and he did not have the mental capacity to give legal authority to enter into contracts on his behalf with" relatives who initially helped admit him to Troy Health facilities when he first fell ill. According to McFarland, "[t]he medical records document that Wilcoxon was habitually and/or permanently incompetent." Therefore, McFarland argued, both a 2011 arbitration agreement and a 2012 arbitration agreement were invalid. The circuit court denied Troy Health's motion to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that McFarland failed to prove that Wilcoxon was mentally incompetent when he executed a 2012 durable power of attorney naming his other daughter as his attorney-in-fact, and also failed to demonstrate that Wilcoxon was "permanently incompetent" before that date, and because there was no other issue concerning the validity of the 2012 arbitration agreement. View "Troy Health and Rehabilitation Center v. McFarland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a medical-malpractice action for injuries allegedly sustained by his wife while she was a resident at Defendant’s nursing home. Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration and for dismissal, asserting that the case was controlled by a valid arbitration agreement. The circuit court entered a general denial order denying the motion to compel arbitration. Defendant subsequently filed a timely motion for specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. The circuit court did not rule on the motion, and it was deemed denied. Defendant appealed. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal as untimely. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals and affirmed the circuit court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration.View "Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc’y v. Kolesar" on Justia Law