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Ability to Drive Does Not Equate to Ability to Read (PA)

July 25, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">On July 16, 2019, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a trial court order which overruled the preliminary objections of HCR ManorCare, LLC which sought enforcement of an arbitration agreement in <em><a href="">Herlan v. HCR-Manorcare</a></em><a href=""></a>.<em>  </em>In February 2014, Herlan was in an automobile accident and sought treatment at HCR ManorCare.  In March 2016, Herlan filed a lawsuit asserting a claim of negligence against HCR ManorCare, LLC due to a right femur fracture he suffered while at the HCR ManorCare rehabilitation facility.  In response to the complaint, HCR ManorCare filed preliminary objections asserting the parties had entered into a binding arbitration agreement pursuant to a term contained in intake documents Herlan signed when he began his stay at HCR ManorCare.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">However, Herlan contended that the arbitration clause was not enforceable as he was unable to read the intake documents he signed due to severe vision problems arising from his diabetes.  As such, he had relied on an HCR ManorCare administrator to explain the contents of said intake documents – which she admitted she never read or explained to Herlan.  Additionally, even though Herlan’s medical charts were at her disposal, she never read his charts or even knew he was visually impaired.  Thus, the trial court ruled this evidence was sufficient to deem the arbitration clause unenforceable as Herlan did not knowingly and voluntarily sign the agreement.  Accordingly, HCR ManorCare appealed this ruling.  On appeal, the Superior Court noted “Pennsylvania has a well-established public policy that favors arbitration.”  However, the Court agreed with the trial court that a valid agreement to arbitrate never existed due to Herlan’s visual impairment and the undisputed evidence that HCR ManorCare’s administrator failed to read or explain the arbitration clause to Herlan.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">HCR ManorCare then made a clever argument,  challenging Herlan’s visual impairment by noting he was lawfully operating a motor vehicle at the time of his accident in February 2014.  Nonetheless, the Superior Court reiterated the trial court findings that just because Herlan had been driving at the time of his accident, this fact does not speak to his “visual acuity” when the accident occurred.  Thus, the Superior Court affirmed the lower court ruling and HCR ManorCare’s preliminary objections were overruled.  Thanks to Garrett Gitler for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> <a href=""></a>with any questions.</p>

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