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Georgia Court of Appeals Says No Arbitration Based on Spouse Signature – Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Eric Frisch

Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Eric Frisch.

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration in a medical malpractice case, holding that a husband’s signature on a residency agreement containing an arbitration provision is not binding on the decedent, even if the husband was also the decedent’s power of attorney. In this case, the decedent executed a power of attorney, designating her husband to sign her in or out of any hospital or nursing home, among other things. The decedent was then admitted to a skilled nursing facility. The admission paperwork included an arbitration provision. The form contained multiple signature lines for “resident,” “responsible party,” “resident’s representative,” and “legal representative.” Decedent’s husband signed the form as “responsible party” and “resident’s representative.” The same form included checkboxes underneath “resident representative” and “legal representative,” including “spouse,” which was checked. The form also included a checkbox for “agent under a power of attorney,” which was not checked.

After suit was filed, the facility moved to dismiss or to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that under controlling case law and basic contract principles, the trial court correctly determined that Decedent’s husband only signed the residency agreement in his capacity as the spouse and not in his capacity as an agent, power of attorney, or fiduciary. Notably, the Court wrote that the mere existence of a power of attorney, without more, does not determine whether the person has acted in that capacity when they signed. Further, the Court stated “we now hold that the existence of a POA between spouses, standing alone, is insufficient to bind the principal” under the facts of the case. Part of those facts included the absence of any evidence that decedent was incapacitated.

Take-home: Courts will strictly construe arbitration agreements. Any entity seeking to use an arbitration provision should review the current cases and consider revising the agreements.

The case is C.R. of Thomasville, LLC v. Hannaford, __ S.E.2d ___, 2022 WL 1012952 (Ga.Ct.App. April 5, 2022).

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