Court: Arbitration agreement still enforceable even though SNF doesn't have copy of it

A skilled nursing facility that doesn't have a copy of a signed arbitration agreement can still compel arbitration, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday.

Although Golden Living in Kokomo unexplainedly does not possess a version of the agreement, defense attorneys nonetheless supplied enough other evidence to uphold the pact, the justices affirmed.

“Golden Living inexplicably failed to retain a copy of the arbitration agreement, but the trial court concluded that sufficient extrinsic evidence existed to conclude that an enforceable agreement exists,” Mathias wrote. “We agree and conclude that the extrinsic evidence in the record resolves the ambiguity surrounding the parties to the arbitration agreement.”

Golden Living's former marketing director, Joni Lott, was a key witness for the provider. She testified that she gave the resident, Frank Cavazos, admissions and alternative dispute resolution agreements to sign and that she encouraged him to take them home and have someone else review them. Cavazos was given the originals, as is customary facility practice. Lott said that he appeared alert and coherent enough to understand the line of discussion, which included binding arbitration for any disputes.

Cavazos died in 2013, two years after moving into the facility. Nine months after his death, personal representative Maureen Maynard filed suit, claiming negligence and breach of contract.

Golden, despite being able to offer only a blank copy of the arbitration agreement, filed motions to dismiss and compel arbitration. A trial court sided with the operator, leading to Maynard's appeal.

Her legal team pointed out that Lott had acknowledged that Cavazos might not have understood the agreements. But Maynard, who was not Cavazos' guardian at the time the agreements were signed, never presented evidence that he was incompetent or unable to take part in them, which was her burden of proof. Because of this and other factors, the appeals justices ruled that there had been no error in determining the agreement was enforceable.