Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Arbitration Clause in Nursing Home Lawsuit

The Illinois 4th District Appellate Court affirmed the decision of an Adams County Circuit Court judge.  In December 2018, Mark Mason signed numerous documents allowing his mother, Doris Mason, to be admitted to St. Vincent’s Home Inc., a nursing home, including an admissions agreement. The agreement included an arbitration clause and a provision in the contract for services that the contract terminates automatically in the event of Doris’s death.

From December 2018 through October 2019, Doris resided at the nursing home. She suffered a fall, fracturing her left femur on Jan. 14, 2019. She also suffered burns to her right hip five times between Feb. 20 and May 7, 2019.

On Oct. 2, 2019, Doris passed away. Mark filed a lawsuit in December 2020 against the nursing home, WDM Health Services Inc., and three caretakers. Mark alleged violations of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, negligence and claims under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act.

The defendants moved to dismiss and compel arbitration under the arbitration clause of the admissions agreement. Mark Mason argued the clause was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and therefore unenforceable.  Additionally, it was claimed that the contract for services was unenforceable because it terminated upon Doris’s death.  The Adams County Circuit Court granted the motion to compel arbitration, staying the wrongful death claims, and compelling arbitration on all other claims. Mason appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court.

On appeal, Mason argued that the arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable because the entire contract was presented as a single folder, which he reviewed in two-and-a-half hours with a nursing home employee, and the clause was not distinguished from the rest of the contract as something negotiable or separate that could be negotiated.

The appellate court disagreed, noting that there was no time limitation on Mason’s review and no allegations of either coercion or deception.

Mason also alleged the clause was substantively unconscionable as the nursing home was not obligated to pursue arbitration claims against residents. However, the nursing home stated that claims for nonpayment by a resident are subject to arbitration. The only exception being transfers and discharge hearings which are properly raised with an administrative law judge in the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The appeals panel found the terms of the arbitration clause were not substantially unconscionable, and thus the Circuit Court did not err in finding it enforceable. Mason then argued that he lacked the authority to execute the contract on behalf of his mother since he lacked a valid power of attorney for healthcare for her, noting that the signed power of attorney for healthcare was registered the day after Doris’s admission.

The appellate court, however, noted that Mason had a proper power of attorney for healthcare from the day after Doris’s admission onward, and thus the Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion in finding he had an implied or apparent authority to the sign the document for his mother.

Finally, Mason argued that Doris’s death terminated the contract, making it unenforceable.  The appellate court disagreed, finding that the contract indicated that the claim accrued prior to Doris’s passing and was still bound by the terms of the arbitration clause.

Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the Adams County Circuit Court.

Mark Mason v. St. Vincent’s Home, Inc., WDM Health Services, et al., 2022 IL App (4th) 210458, Jan. 28, 2022.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling nursing home abuse cases, cases under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, wrongful death lawsuits, and medical malpractice cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 45 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Maywood, Cicero, Niles, Evanston, Wilmette, Buffalo Grove, Vernon Hills, Lake Bluff, Zion, Waukegan, Round Lake Beach, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Lake Barrington, Hoffman Estates, Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Roselle, Villa Park, Bolingbrook, Aurora, St. Charles, Geneva, Chicago (Logan Square, Brighton Park, McKinley Park, Bronzeville, Douglas, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, West Englewood, Calumet Heights, Avalon Park, Pullman, Wrightwood, Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, Humboldt Park, Irving Park, Albany Park, Edison Park, Morton Grove, Prospect Heights, Mount Prospect and Northfield, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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