Georgia Appeals Court Ruling in Med Mal Case Clarifies Effect of Arbitration Clauses
Atlanta, GA— The Georgia Court of Appeals last week upheld the denial of a motion to compel arbitration in a medical malpractice claim, in a decision that clarifies the reach of healthcare arbitration clauses.
In an opinion by Presiding Judge Stephen Dillard, the Court of Appeals held that an Emory Healthcare arbitration clause that Richard Farrell signed as part of admissions paperwork in May 2018 had been rescinded, because Emory presented him identical arbitration paperwork during an admission months later, which Farrell did not sign
“By re-presenting an indefinite arbitration agreement to a patient who has already executed one, the hospital has contractually abandoned the prior agreement,” the appellate court concluded.
Farrell sued Emory and others, claiming they were responsible for damage to one of his blood vessels in a procedure he underwent during an August 2018 admission.
Emory moved to compel arbitration, arguing that an arbitration clause Farrell signed in May 2018 applied to his admission and treatment in August. Emory maintained that the fact that it re-presented identical arbitration forms in August, which Farrell did not sign, had no effect on the earlier May agreement.
However, the appellate court disagreed, finding that Emory abandoned the earlier agreement by presenting the arbitration clause again.
“By re-presenting the arbitration agreement to Ferrell each time he sought treatment,” Dillard wrote, “the Emory defendants engaged in behavior unmistakably demonstrating their abandonment of the prior agreement.”
In support of its argument, Emory pointed to language in the arbitration agreement mandating that it applied to all future healthcare delivered by the provider. Emory contended that its presentation of the agreement with each admission was merely a way to “ensure the broadest possible dissemination of the offer to arbitrate among the patient population.”
However, the appellate court rejected that contention as well.
“[T]he re-presentment of the arbitration agreement unequivocally and objectively evinces an intent to offer the re-admitted patient with a new opportunity to choose or reject arbitration,” Dillard wrote.
“Otherwise, re-presentment of the identical agreement offers the patient a choice they are not contractually allowed to make, or a choice that is meaningless.”
Judges Amanda Mercier and Verda Colvin concurred in the decision.
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