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PA Superior Court Requires High Burden of Proof When Challenging Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Provisions

A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling found that nursing home patients who challenge the validity of arbitration agreements due to mental incapacity have a high burden to prove their case. In Cardinal v. Kindred Health Care, No. 1547 MDA 2014 (Pa Super. 2017), the plaintiff, Bret Cardinal (“Cardinal”) brought suit on behalf of the estate of the decedent Carmen Cardinal against the defendant, Kindred Nursing Centers (“Kindred”). The decedent was admitted as a patient to a Kindred facility on June 21, 2012.They then signed a contract the next day agreeing that any disputes related to their admission at the facility would be resolved through arbitration. The plaintiff brought suit alleging claims of negligence, custodial neglect and wrongful death of the decedent, and challenged the arbitration agreement due to the decedent’s lack of mental capacity to enter into the agreement at the time of signing it. The plaintiff alleged that on the day of the decedent’s admission to the Kindred facility, medical records indicate the decedent was lethargic and disoriented. Furthermore, the following day when the agreement was signed, records also show that the decedent had trouble signing the agreement. The plaintiff argued that the facts taken collectively make it clear the decedent was not of sound mental capacity to comprehend the agreement and thus wasn’t able to enter into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily.

The court disagreed; it ruled that Pennsylvania law requires the patient challenging the agreement to prove by “clear, precise and convincing” evidence the patient’s mental incapacity, and “mere weakness of intellect resulting from sickness is not legally sufficient grounds to set aside an executed contract if sufficient intelligence remains to comprehend the nature and character of the transaction.”

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