In its unpublished opinion filed on April 12, 2019, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two (“California Appellate Court”) addressed the purported arbitration agreements presented to a California nursing home resident’s daughter at the time that her mother was admitted to the defendant California nursing home in 2016.
The California nursing home’s admission documents included a generic two-page agreement entitled, “Resident Facility Arbitration Agreement” (“Agreement”). The Agreement identified the mother as the resident, but failed to identify the facility. The first page of the Agreement contained two independent articles, each setting forth separate agreements to arbitrate different matters. Article 1 expressly mandated arbitration of any claim alleging medical malpractice, while article 2 mandated arbitration of all other types of claims, including statutory causes of action under the Welfare and Institutions Code.
The second page of the Agreement contained two signature blocks requiring separate approval of articles 1 and 2. The first signature block referred to article 1 and included a notice that “you are agreeing to have any issue of medical malpractice decided by neutral arbitration.” The notice was signed and dated by the daughter only; the signature block for a representative of the facility was left blank. The second signature block referred to article 2 and is similar; however, it stated, “you are agreeing to have all claims” decided by arbitration, which would include nonmedical claims. Neither party executed the signature blocks under this warning.
The California Appellate Court held: (1) the only claim that might be categorized as medical malpractice is the claim against a physician. Because the plaintiffs have not asserted any medical malpractice claim against the defendant nursing home, the nursing home’s arbitration agreement’s requirement to arbitrate any medical malpractice claim does not apply, and (2) the trial court erred in finding that the defendant nursing home’s failure to sign the arbitration agreement invalidated the contract but the trial court correctly invalidated the arbitration agreement based on the defendant nursing home’s failure to identify itself as a party to the contract.
The Underlying Facts
On October 19, 2016, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) assisted the mother to the bathroom, placed her on the toilet, and instructed her to pull the call cord when she finished. The CNA stated she would be outside the bedroom door to allow for privacy. The mother fell and, at the family’s request, she was sent to the hospital. The mother died on November 23, 2016.
On October 13, 2017, the plaintiff sued the defendant nursing home and others alleging several claims, including professional negligence. The plaintiff’s claim for medical malpractice (professional negligence) was against a doctor only, who was not a party to the Agreement and did not assert a right to arbitrate. The defendant nursing home filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to the Agreement, arguing that the parties mutually agreed to arbitrate claims arising out of the care and treatment rendered to the decedent, including but not limited to claims for Medical Malpractice, Negligence, Intentional Torts and Elder Abuse. In response, the plaintiff challenged the validity of the Agreement as to the claims, arguing that mutual assent is lacking because the defendant nursing home did not sign the Agreement and the plaintiff’s claims are not subject to arbitration because the plaintiff did not execute the Agreement to arbitrate the claims.
The trial court denied the petition to arbitrate, concluding it could not compel arbitration because the Agreement was not signed by any representative for the defendant nursing home and did not identify the facility as a party. The defendant nursing home appealed the trial court’s denial of its petition to compel arbitration, arguing its lack of signature on the Agreement is irrelevant since its petition to enforce the arbitration process evinced its intent to be bound by the Agreement.
California Appellate Court Opinion
The California Appellate Court ruled that the defendant nursing home’s lack of signature is irrelevant under the circumstances; however, there is no valid agreement to arbitrate (to consent to arbitration of nonmedical malpractice claims, the daughter was required to affix her signature in the space provided on the second page of the agreement, under the paragraph 15 in bold red type. Her initials on the prior page of the Agreement were not enough. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1295, subd. (b))).
Source Perez v. P&M Health Care Holdings, Inc, E069985.
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