The Mississippi Supreme Court recently held that the failure of a nursing home to sign its own arbitration agreement was fatal to the enforcement of the agreement. The court's ruling provides a harsh reminder to all long term care providers of the importance of signing their own arbitration agreements.
In Byrd v. Simmons, 5 So. 3d 384 (Miss. 2009), the plaintiff admitted his mother to a nursing home in Mississippi. At the time of admission, the plaintiff signed on behalf of his mother an admission agreement and the facility's standard arbitration agreement. The facility signed the admission agreement but failed to sign the arbitration agreement. After the death of the plaintiff's mother, the plaintiff's attorney recognized the facility's mistake and wrote a letter to the facility stating that the plaintiff revoked his offer to accept the agreement to arbitrate. The plaintiff subsequently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the nursing home. The defendant facility filed a motion to require the plaintiff to arbitrate his claims. However, the defendant's motion was denied by the trial court. Byrd, 5 So. 3d at 386-87.
On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court focused on the fact that no representative of the nursing home signed the arbitration agreement. The court first noted that the facility did not require the plaintiff to agree to arbitrate as a prerequisite to admit the plaintiff's mother to the facility. Based on this finding, the court determined that the admission agreement and the arbitration agreement were stand-alone documents, and the nursing home's execution of the admission agreement was insufficient to require arbitration. According to the Mississippi Supreme Court, there was no mutual agreement between the plaintiff and the facility to arbitrate because the nursing home failed to sign the agreement to arbitrate. The court therefore affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to compel arbitration. Byrd, 5 So. 3d at 389.
The Byrd opinion serves as a reminder to all facilities that they should not overlook the perfunctory act of signing arbitration agreements. Given the importance of arbitration agreements in many jurisdictions, long term care providers who utilize arbitration agreements should review their admission procedures to ensure all necessary details for securing valid arbitration agreements are in place. Providers should also review their admission records to make certain that all arbitration agreements have been signed by a representative of the facility.