Nursing Home’s Arbitration Agreement Found ‘Unconscionable’ — and Unenforceable — in Wrongful Death Suit

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirms a trial court’s finding that a nursing home’s arbitration agreement requiring a resident to pay half the costs of arbitration was “unconscionable.” Kohlman v. Grane Healthcare Company (Pa. Super 118, J-A25034-21, July 5, 2022).

Ms. Fay A. Vincent was admitted to Highland Park Care Center, a nursing home in Pittsburgh, in early 2017. At the time of her admission, Highland Park acknowledged that she was alert without any memory problems or dementia, but that she was essentially blind in both eyes and was suffering from several health conditions. Ms. Vincent signed several documents upon her admission, including an arbitration agreement. She died three months later.

In 2018, her estate filed a negligence action against Highland Park, a hospital that had treated Ms. Vincent, and the hospital’s affiliates. Highland Park sought to force arbitration, which the trial court denied. Highland Park appealed. The trial court reaffirmed, ultimately deeming the arbitration agreement “unconscionable.”

According to the trial court, Ms. Vincent was in pain, medicated, and alone when she signed the arbitration agreement and other documents, without being given either an opportunity to read them before signing or a copy to review after signing. Further, the court determined that the arbitration agreement’s requirement to have Ms. Vincent or her heirs pay for half of any arbitration costs, as well as the arbitrator’s fees, was “unconscionable” as well.

The Superior Court affirms, stating: “Because the circumstances under which Highand Park obtained [Ms. Vincent’s] signature on the arbitration agreement imposed terms unfavorable to her without giving her meaningful choice to accept or reject [it], the trial court correctly concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable as a matter of law.”

Read the full opinion.