The Court of Appeals of Georgia (“Georgia Appellate Court”) stated in its opinion dated June 2, 2021: “what if—as in this case—a patient signs an indefinite arbitration agreement during one visit, later seeks admission for additional or other healthcare services, is represented with the same arbitration agreement, refuses to sign it, and is still admitted to the hospital? Can the hospital rely upon the prior arbitration agreement to force the patient to arbitrate any claims arising out of the subsequent hospital stay? The short answer is: No. By re-presenting an indefinite arbitration agreement to a patient who has already executed one, the hospital has contractually abandoned the prior agreement.”
The Underlying Facts
The Georgia Appellate Court stated: “So, here is how it works. A patient seeks admittance to a hospital for healthcare services and is presented with paperwork to sign as a condition of being admitted. These admissions forms include an arbitration agreement governing this visit and all future admittances. If the patient signs the arbitration agreement during each hospital stay, then there is no issue as to the formation of those agreements.”
The Georgia Appellate Court continued: “[T]he Emory Defendants hinge their argument on language in the arbitration agreement indicating that it applies to all future healthcare services. Specifically, they maintain that re-presenting the identical agreement—which Farrell did not sign—in later admissions forms did not amount to an abandonment of the earlier signed agreement but is merely a way to “ensure the broadest possible dissemination of the offer to arbitrate among the patient population.” This contention is a nonstarter. Indeed, despite the Emory Defendants’ post hoc rationale to seemingly veil a heads-we-win-tails-you-lose outcome, we agree with the trial court that the representment of the arbitration agreement unequivocally and objectively evinces an intent to offer the readmitted patient with a new opportunity to choose or reject arbitration. Otherwise, re-presentment of the identical agreement offers the patient a choice they are not contractually allowed to make, or a choice that is meaningless. This, of course, would run afoul of Georgia law, which “requires us to give meaning to every term of a contract rather than construe any term as meaningless, and to construe a contract so as to uphold the contract in whole and in every part[.]” And that is exactly what we will do here.”
The Georgia Appellate Court held: “although the arbitration agreement language in the May 21, 2018 admissions forms did not require it to do so, Emory presented Farrell with a new (albeit identical) arbitration agreement in the August 6, 2018 admissions forms and, therefore, abandoned the previous one. And by electing not to sign the new arbitration agreement, Farrell acquiesced in the Emory Defendants’ abandonment of the earlier agreement. As a result, there was no agreement to arbitrate in existence as of August 6, 2018, and the trial court did not err in denying the Emory Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration.”
Source Emory Healthcare, Inc. v, Farrell, A21A0173.
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of hospital malpractice in Georgia or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Georgia medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your hospital medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a hospital medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.