Reversal grants estate compelled arbitration in nursing home med-mal case

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the denial of an estate’s motion to compel arbitration against a nursing facility after concluding that the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act does not apply in the case.

At the end of her life, Sandra King was a resident at nursing facility Aperion Care Tolleston Park in Gary. As part of the admission process, King signed an arbitration agreement with Aperion stating that all claims against the facility were to be resolved exclusively by arbitration.

Before her death, King developed numerous ailments while living at Aperion, which prompted her estate to file a proposed complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance alleging medical malpractice. It specifically cited the nursing care that King received while she was a resident at Aperion.

The estate subsequently filed a motion to compel arbitration after learning of the signed arbitration agreement, but the trial court denied the motion on grounds that it was “not yet ripe for arbitration.” It denied the motion because the estate’s claims “must first proceed through the review process set forth in the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.”

In agreeing with the estate that the trial court’s decision was wrong, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision in The Estate of Sandra King by Special Adminstrator Marie Briggs v. Aperion Care d/b/a Aperion Care Tolleston Park and Steve Robertson, Insurance Commissioner for the Indiana Department of Insurance, 19A-MI-3037.

“The Estate claims that the trial court erred in determining that the matter was not ripe for arbitration because the parties had yet to complete the review panel process required by the Act. In making this argument, the Estate claims that the Act does not apply in this case because the Arbitration Agreement provided the exclusive avenue for resolution of its claims. We agree,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the appellate court.

“Given that the parties agreed that the exclusive means for resolving any claims was arbitration and our precedent stating that when construing arbitration agreements, ‘every doubt is to be resolved in favor of arbitration,’ we conclude that the Facility relinquished its right to avail itself of the Act,” the appellate court wrote.

It additionally noted that the parties could have agreed as a condition precedent to arbitration that the arbitration of any issue falling under the Act must be presented to a review panel prior to being submitted to arbitration. However, the appellate court observed that no such condition precedent is contained in the arbitration agreement.

It therefore reversed and remanded the matter to the Lake Superior Court with the instruction to enter an order granting the estate’s motion to compel.

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