Pennsylvania Nursing Home That Failed To Sign Arbitration Agreement Cannot Seek to Enforce the Agreement

Contributed by Danielle L. Dietrich

On January 15, 2015, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Bair v. Manor Care of Elizabethtown, PA, LLC 2015 Pa. Super. 9 (2015) ruled that a nursing home arbitration agreement was not enforceable when the facility did not sign the agreement.

M. Sylvia Bair commenced this action for wrongful death and survival in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County as Executrix of the Estate of Martha A. Edwards against Manor Care, alleging that neglect and abuse of Ms. Edwards by Manor Care lead to her death.

Manor Care filed preliminary objections seeking to have the case referred to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement executed by Ms. Bair on behalf of Ms. Edwards upon her admission to Manor Care.  However, no Manor Care representative completed or signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of the entity.  The trial court overruled Manor Care’s preliminary objections, permitting the litigation to move forward in the state court.  Manor Care appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The “Voluntary Arbitration Agreement” at issue contained blanks on the first page for the insertion of the names of the contracting parties and the date.  Those blanks were not completed.  The agreement also failed to attach a brochure to which it referred and incorporated into the agreement.  There were also signature lines for the Patient, the Patient’s legal representative and for the Center Representative.  The Center Representative did not sign the agreement.

Manor Care argued that the mere presentation of the form constituted an offer to arbitrate.  By signing the agreement, they argued, Ms. Bair accepted the offer.

Ms. Bair argued that the form does not indicate who the parties are and that the form was “facially devoid of essential terms” and was therefore unenforceable. The Superior Court found that by failing to affix its signature, Manor Care did not consent to arbitrate, as there was no mutual assent. It found that the nursing home could not enforce the arbitration agreement.

Link to opinion:

http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-A31002-14o%20-%201020758773017800.pdf?cb=1

Danielle Dietrich can be reached via email: ddietrich@tuckerlaw.com, telephone: 412-594-5605 or on Twitter at @DLDietrich.