The Arizona Court of Appeals Division One (“Arizona Appellate Court”) ruled in its decision dated January 28, 2020: “Plaintiffs’ claims are not for “medical malpractice” under the arbitration agreement because pushing a wheelchair from breakfast is not a “medical service” under the ordinary meaning of that term … We are not persuaded that Plaintiffs have sued for “medical malpractice” simply because nursing homes are healthcare providers and their decisions always affect patient treatment. A slip-and-fall lawsuit does not morph into a medical malpractice action when the fall happens at a nursing home rather than a supermarket.”
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff’s mother was admitted to the defendant nursing home in January 2013. The mother suffered from various cognitive and physical ailments, including dementia, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease, functional quadriplegia, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease.
At the time of the nursing home admission, the son signed the forms for her admission as the “Responsible Party,” including the Admissions Agreement, because his mother “did not know what she was signing.” The Admissions Agreement included an arbitration clause for “any dispute as to medical malpractice,” defined as a disagreement over “whether any medical service rendered under the contract [was] necessary or unauthorized or [was] improperly, negligent or incompetently rendered.”
In March 2016, the mother fell from her wheelchair while returning to her room from breakfast in the dining room. A certified nursing assistant was pushing the wheelchair when the mother’s foot became entangled in a loose mattress cord, catapulting her head-first onto the floor and breaking her neck. She died five days later from her injuries.
The son subsequently sued the nursing home in his capacity as personal representative of his mother’s estate and on behalf of her statutory beneficiaries, claiming wrongful death, negligence and violation of the Adult Protective Services Act (“APSA”). The defendant Arizona nursing home moved to compel arbitration of the negligence and APSA claims. The son opposed the motion, arguing that he lacked authority to bind his mother to the agreement. The Arizona superior court denied the motion, reasoning that the son’s negligence and APSA claims did not present a “medical malpractice” dispute under the arbitration clause. The superior court also found that the son had “no express or apparent authority” to bind his mother “for the purpose of entering in the [arbitration] [a]greement.” The defendant Arizona nursing home appealed.
Arizona Appellate Court Decision
The Arizona Appellate Court stated that the arbitration clause at issue defines the term “medical malpractice” as a dispute about “whether any medical service rendered under the contract were necessary or unauthorized or were improperly, negligent or incompetently rendered.” The Arizona Appellate Court stated “Given that definition, the issue is whether Palm Valley’s nursing assistant was performing “medical services” when returning a wheelchair-bound resident from the dining room.”
The Arizona Appellate Court stated that the mother “was injured in the normal course of an ordinary day at Palm Valley—returning from breakfast in the dining room. She was not returning from a doctor’s appointment or waiting in a hospital recovery room after surgery … At a minimum, the record on appeal includes no evidence that a physician directed the wheelchair be pushed, and the service did not pertain to medical care … Plaintiffs’ claims arise from negligent maintenance and environmental failures—a loose cord caused Mother’s fall, and standard maintenance would have solved the problem. Palm Valley’s staff and investigators uniformly ascribed the accident to environmental factors—defining the “root cause” as a loose cord and proposing simple zip ties as the solution. A claim for ordinary negligence does not transform into an action for medical malpractice just because the defendant is a health care provider … The systemic nature of issues does not transform an ordinary tort into medical malpractice.”
Source Bernardo v. Windsor, No. 1 CA-CV 19-0197.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in the United States due to a nursing home fall, nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, nursing home under-staffing, or the nursing home failing to properly care for a vulnerable adult, you should promptly find a nursing home claim lawyer in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf or behalf of your loved one, if appropriate.
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