The patient was age 53 when he was transferred to Kindred Hospital. He had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and bipolar disorder in his twenties. When he signed the arbitration agreement in issue, he had required 24-hour nursing care for the previous 13 years, although he was not cognitively impaired at the time of the signing.

After he filed a negligence suit regarding pressure ulcers he had developed, the hospital filed a motion to dismiss his complaint and compel arbitration, based on the arbitration agreement the patient had signed. The hospital’s motion was denied, and an appeal was filed. On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed.

The appeals court noted the following relevant facts. Upon his hospital admission, the patient had been presented with 12 admission documents requiring his signature. The “Voluntary Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement” (the arbitration agreement) was among them. The arbitration agreement was not explained to him; he was only told to sign all the documents. He did so, including the “voluntary” arbitration agreement. Every document was signed within the span of one minute. The arbitration agreement stated that his signature was not a precondition to treatment, and that he could cancel it within 5 days; however, he was not provided a copy of the arbitration agreement.

In denying the hospital’s motion to dismiss, the trial court had noted that the issues in such cases are fact-sensitive. The trial court determined that what occurred was “not a knowing and voluntary waiver of his legal rights”  to a trial, and that the agreement was “procedurally and substantively unconscionable” as applied to the patient.

The appellate court agreed, concluding that “the problems with the formation of the contract were so consequential as to alone warrant denial of [the hospital’s] motion” to dismiss the action and compel arbitration. It noted that an arbitration agreement must be the product of “mutual assent,” and that, as a matter of law, this arbitration agreement “lacked the mutuality of assent necessary for it to be binding.”

A copy of Ricciardi v. Abingdon Care & Rehabilitation Center can be found here – Ricciardi v. Abingdon Care & Rehabilitation Center

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