Optional arbitration agreement not a healthcare decision.

A healthcare power of attorney does not give the attorney-in-fact authority to sign an optional arbitration agreement on behalf of a patient.

In Hall v. Quality Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, LLC, No. M2022-01028-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 9, 2024), plaintiff’s husband died at a hospital after living at defendant nursing home. Before admission to the nursing home, the husband signed a healthcare power of attorney granting plaintiff/wife the authority to make health care decisions on his behalf. Plaintiff signed the nursing home admission form for her husband, as well as an optional arbitration agreement upon admission.

After the husband’s death, plaintiff filed this wrongful death case. Defendant moved to have the trial court compel arbitration based on the optional arbitration agreement plaintiff signed. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Tennessee Supreme Court addressed this exact issue in Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC 685 S.W.3d 718 (Tenn. 2024). Therein, the Supreme Court held that “signing an arbitration agreement that is not a condition of admission to a healthcare facility is not a health care decision within the meaning of the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act.” (citing and quoting Williams).

Applying that holding here, the Court of Appeals pointed out that Plaintiff had the authority to make health care decisions, but not legal decisions, for her husband. The arbitration agreement was optional, and defendant would have admitted the husband even if it were not signed. Accordingly, signing this document was not a health care decision. The Court found that Plaintiff did not have the authority to execute the arbitration agreement, and that it was therefore never valid. Denial of the motion to compel arbitration was affirmed (though on different grounds than the trial court’s decision).

The Court released this opinion two months after oral arguments in this case.

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