Illinois Appellate Court Holds Trial Court Was Required To Hold Hearing On Validity Of Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement

In its Order filed on September 30, 2021, the Appellate Court of Illinois First District Fourth Division (“Illinois Appellate Court”) held that where a nursing home resident sued the nurse, nursing home and management company for injuries sustained from a fall, and defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit and compel arbitration pursuant to the parties’ arbitration agreement, the trial court was required to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the agreement was validly formed based on the resident’s allegation that he lacked the capacity to enter into the agreement due to his diagnosed mental and physical illnesses and related medications.”

Underlying Facts

In 2019, plaintiff sued Heather Health Care Center, Inc., d/b/a Heather Health Care Center (“Heather”), and others, alleging that he had been a resident of Heather, a long-term care facility, since May 2016, with the exception of intermittent hospitalizations. Plaintiff alleged that defendants knew or should have known that he was at a high risk for falls; Heather had a below-average staffing level; defendants failed to provide him supervision and assistance with the activities of daily living to ensure that he received proper care and treatment to prevent falls; and he fell on September 9, 2018, and suffered a right intertrochanteric hip fracture that required surgery. Plaintiff alleged that (count I) Heather violated plaintiff’s rights under the provisions of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act (Care Act) (210 ILCS 45/1-101 et seq. (West 2018)), and was negligent in the care and treatment of plaintiff; (count II) defendant Alden, which owned, operated, managed and exercised significant control over the necessary components of the day-to-day operations of Heather, and was a “related party” to Heather as defined by the Centers for Medicare Services and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, had a duty through its agents and employees to use the skill and care ordinarily used by a reasonably careful management company and was negligent in the management and operation of Heather; and (count III) defendant Akinola, who was on duty at the relevant time, breached his duty to exercise reasonable care by negligent acts and omissions.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice under section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2018)), and compel mediation and arbitration. Defendants argued that plaintiff voluntarily signed an arbitration agreement in May 2016 upon his admission to Heather, that agreement was valid, and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.) required the court to direct the parties to mediate the claims alleged in the complaint and, if resolution could not be reached through mediation, then undergo binding arbitration.

Plaintiff alleged that he lacked the legal capacity to enter into the arbitration agreement and supported that claim with the affidavit of Dr. Swagerty, who opined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that plaintiff did not have the ability to understand the terms and conditions of the arbitration agreement. Dr. Swagerty based his opinion on his review of the agreement, Walker’s deposition and its exhibits, and plaintiff’s medical records. Those medical records established plaintiff’s underlying medical and psychiatric condition, i.e., his active diagnoses of three mental health disorders and a seizure disorder, his related medications, and the side effects of that medication.

The Illinois Appellate Court stated that because defendants presented adequate evidence of the existence of their affirmative defense or other affirmative matter, i.e., the arbitration agreement signed by plaintiff, the burden then shifted to plaintiff, who was required to establish that the affirmative matter was either unfounded or involved an issue of material fact. Plaintiff’s response to defendants’ motion argued, inter alia, that plaintiff did not have the mental capacity to enter the agreement, and plaintiff produced evidence in support of that argument. Defendants’ reply attempted to refute plaintiff’s claim of mental incapacity with notations in his medical records, which were used by defense counsel to attempt to confront Dr. Swagerty during his discovery deposition.

The Illinois Appellate Court held: “Plaintiff raised a question of fact as to the validity of the agreement and whether it was unconscionable in light of plaintiff’s alleged incapacity. Defendants did not refute the existence of that question of fact but at best merely presented evidence upon which they expected to contest the ultimate fact of plaintiff’s incapacity. The trial court could not resolve this dispute on the parties’ pleadings. The manner in which the trial court proceeded was not sufficient to decide the motion. In deciding the merits of a section 2-619 motion, a trial court cannot determine disputed factual issues solely upon affidavits and counteraffidavits. If the affidavits present disputed facts, the parties must be afforded the opportunity to have an evidentiary hearing.”

Source Kizart v. Heather Health Care Center, Inc., d/b/a Heather Health Care Center, 2021 IL App (1st) 201193-U.

If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) during a nursing home stay in Illinois or elsewhere in the United States, you should promptly contact a local nursing home claim attorney in Illinois or in your state to investigate your possible nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf or on behalf of your loved one, if appropriate.

Visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers (nursing home lawyers) in your state who may be able to assist you with your medical malpractice claim (nursing home claim), or call us toll-free at 800-295-3959.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 30th, 2021 at 5:24 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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