March 5, 2018
GA Appeals Court Denies Arbitration Required in Patient Lawsuit Against Nursing Home April 2013, Marvin Coleman of Georgia was admitted for long-term care at Heritage Healthcare of Forsyth, a facility operated by United Health Services of Georgia. At the time, Coleman was competent to sign his own admission documents, which included a voluntary alternative dispute resolution (ADR) agreement relating specifically to the Forsyth facility. In those documents, Coleman also stated multiple times that his brother-in-law Charles Biggerstaff was his representative on healthcare related issues.
Unfortunately, about a year later, Coleman began exhibiting signs of memory loss accompanied by behavioral issues that necessitated his being transferred to an alternate facility better suited to his special needs. In March 2014, Coleman was admitted into such a facility, Heritage Healthcare of Macon.
In Coleman’s absence, Biggerstaff signed the admission documents to the Macon facility, claiming to do so in his alleged capacity as Coleman’s representative. Included among the signed admission documents was another ADR agreement, this time covering the Macon facility. On its face, the agreement purports to have Biggerstaff, Coleman, and the Macon facility waiving all parties’ right to a jury trial in favor of binding arbitration.
In December 2014, Coleman sued the Macon facility for alleged injuries he suffered while under its care. Citing the ADR agreement, the defendants sought to dismiss the claim and have it removed to arbitration. The trial court agreed with the defendants but also submitted the issue to the appellate court for immediate review.
In a February 23 decision, the Georgia appellate court gave its answer, finding that Coleman was not bound by the ADR agreement to which he had not been a party. In its decision, the court ruled that Coleman had not authorized Biggerstaff to execute the Macon facility’s ADR agreement on his behalf. Further, the court determined that Coleman’s authorization of Biggerstaff to make healthcare decisions on his behalf did not extend to authorization to executing the ADR agreement.
The appellate court decision opens the way for Coleman to bring his own claim at the trial court level. In a broader context, it serves as yet another example of courts seeing through the attempts of nursing homes to push their patients into executing ADR agreements that prevent them from bringing claims in court.
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