Lack of documentation made nursing home arbitration agreement invalid, OK Supreme Court rules

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The granddaughter of an Oklahoma nursing home resident did not have the paperwork to trigger her power-of-attorney when she signed an arbitration agreement, meaning that a wrongful death case now can proceed, the state's Supreme Court recently ruled.

Tamera Nelson signed an arbitration agreement at the time her grandmother, Arda Lee Churchill, was admitted to Grace Living Center-Chickasha in 2009, according to court documents. However, Nelson did not have the active healthcare power-of-attorney needed for the agreement to be valid because at that time there was no physician certification that Churchill did not have the capacity to make decisions for herself, the Supreme Court ruled Nov. 25.

The finding upholds a state court decision.

The nursing home argued that the status of the power-of-attorney should not matter because the arbitration agreement was not related to Churchill's healthcare. The court cited a prior case in refuting this argument, saying that because the nursing home admission and subsequent care would occur only if Nelson signed the arbitration agreement, it was a healthcare decision.

Because the agreement was not valid when signed, Churchill's daughter, Melody Johnson, can pursue wrongful death charges against the facility rather than arbitrate the claims, the justices determined.

Several arbitration agreement cases have come before high courts in other states in recent years, with varied outcomes. Providers and resident advocates alike have called for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the matter, but the justices so far have not accepted these cases.