An appellate court judge in Illinois has delivered a significant ruling in a wrongful death case, determining that a plaintiff who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her mother was not bound by an arbitration agreement she had signed in her capacity as power of attorney.
Justice Eugene Doherty of the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District issued the decision late Friday, partially overturning a lower court’s ruling that had favored the defendants and directed the case to arbitration instead of proceeding through the courts.
The case stems from events surrounding the admission of Luann Mikoff’s mother, Bonnie Stone, to Jerseyville Manor, a skilled nursing facility in Jerseyville, IL, in September 2019. Mikoff, acting as Stone’s power of attorney, signed various admission documents, including an arbitration agreement. Tragically, Stone passed away in August 2020 after being hospitalized with COVID-19. In July 2022, Mikoff filed a lawsuit invoking the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act, alleging negligence and “wanton misconduct” on the part of the defendants, Jerseyville
Manor and management company Unlimited Development, in her mother’s death.
Upon filing the lawsuit, the defendants sought to compel arbitration based on the agreement signed by Mikoff on her mother’s behalf. Initially, a Jersey County circuit court ruled in favor of the nursing home, directing the case to arbitration. However, on appeal, the appellate court ruled that Mikoff’s signature as her mother’s representative did not constitute her own consent to the arbitration agreement.
The court’s decision highlighted that there was no evidence indicating the formation of an arbitration agreement between the defendants and Stone’s next of kin in an individual capacity. However, Presiding Justice John Turner, in partial dissent, argued that the matters of arbitrability should be decided by the arbitrator, citing the arbitration agreement’s broad delegation clause.
In light of the ruling, legal experts foresee implications for nursing homes in Illinois, urging them to exercise caution in the admissions process and contract drafting. Ice Miller attorneys Angela Rinehart and Matthew Kelly emphasized the importance of identifying who has the proper authority to execute contracts and who will be bound by them.
The decision underscores the contentious nature of arbitration agreements in cases involving nursing homes, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some state courts have upheld facilities’ rights to enforce arbitration agreements, the Illinois case presents a different perspective, potentially signaling challenges for nursing homes embroiled in similar legal battles.
Despite not being a complete victory for the plaintiff, the ruling provides clarity on avoiding pitfalls in similar claims, suggesting a complex landscape ahead for nursing homes navigating arbitration agreements in wrongful death cases.