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PA Superior Court Find Tort Claim Not Restricted To Arbitration

In late October the Pa. Superior Court handed down a decision concerning what type of claim is restricted to arbitration based on a nursing home resident contract.

Mary Ryan died when she was catapulted from the wheelchair used to transport her from a doctor’s appointment back to the nursing home where she resided.  The transport person in the employ of the nursing home apparently made a number of errors: (1)  no foot rests were put on the wheel chair; (2) the resident was told to hold her feet up and she was physically unable to do it; (3) a safety strap which would have held her in the chair was not used, though available.  The transporter, pushed the wheelchair, Ms. Ryan’s feet got caught under it when she could not hold them up, and she flew out of the chair and hit her head and face.  Unfortunately, she passed away from the injuries she suffered.  When Mrs. Ryan entered the nursing home, she signed a contract–the resident agreement–which required she arbitrate any disputes with the nursing home, pursuant to or under the contract.  The question before the court was whether the conduct of the transporter was included within the contract.

Arbitration clauses in nursing home agreements present important questions in Pennsylvania, at present, and Judge Mundy’s opinion provides another step in determining how the rights of nursing home residents are affected by the contract signed when they enter a nursing home where their every need is trusted to the facility.  Because lawsuits involving injuries and sometimes death due to neglect or abuse at nursing homes are an important protection for Pennsylvania’s senior residents, putting cases before the Court rather than an arbitrator hired by the nursing home is key.

Judge Mundy comes right to the point, “Because we conclude the Resident Agreement  at issue did not contemplate or encompass tort claims, we affirm the trial court’s order dismissing Pinebrook’s petition to compel.”  The Superior Court considered the language of the contract, and found that it did not address medical care and treatment.  The Court further found that the transportation clause in the contract did not cover the conduct which caused the injury.  After reviewing the case law, the Court explained its opinion that an arbitration clause should not be read to encompass a tort claim which could have expressly been included.

This decision is a win for consumers in Pennsylvania.  What was not decided, but was hinted in a footnote to the opinion is that nursing home agreements may be contracts of adhesion, which would put their enforceability in question.  A contract of adhesion is one in which the bargaining is uneven.  At the very least, where ambiguity would exist in such a contract, it would be interpreted for the benefit of the resident.  Again, this is not decided, but was raised as something for the future.

The Harrisburg nursing home abuse lawyers at Schmidt Kramer work with residents of nursing homes, and their families, in situations of abuse and neglect resulting in injuries to the person who considered a nursing home the place where they could be cared for in safety.  When a nursing home has failed in its duties, and caused an injury, the attorneys at Schmidt Kramer in Harrisburg, work hard for their clients.  If you or a loved one has been injured due to negligence, abuse, or neglect which happened in a nursing home, talk to a personal injury lawyer at our firm today.

Joe Chapman

November 1, 2012