Belhaven Senior Care, LLC, et al. v. Smith, et al.Annotate this Case
Betty Smith brought a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against Belhaven Senior Care, LLC (Belhaven), a nursing home facility in which her mother Mary Hayes had resided shortly before Hayes’s death. Belhaven sought to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration provision in the nursing home admissions agreement Smith signed when admitting her mother. The trial judge denied arbitration, finding that Smith lacked the legal authority to bind her mother to the agreement. Belhaven appealed. The nursing home’s primary argument on appeal was that under the Health-Care Decisions Act (“the Act”), Smith acted as a statutory healthcare surrogate. So in signing the nursing home admission agreement, Smith had authority to waive arbitration on her mother’s behalf. In addition, Belhaven puts forth arguments of direct-benefit estoppel and third-party beneficiary status. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, finding that while Hayes did suffer from some form of dementia, when admitted to the nursing home, she was neither evaluated by a physician nor was she determined to lack capacity. Indeed, her “Admission Physician Orders” were signed by a nurse practitioner. It was not until eleven days later that a physician evaluated Hayes. "And even then, the physician did not deem she lacked capacity. In fact, Belhaven puts forth no evidence that—at any time during her stay of more than a year at Belhaven—any physician ever determined Hayes lacked capacity." The Court determined Belhaven failed to prove the strict requirements of the surrogacy statute to rebut this presumption. Furthermore, the Court found Belhaven’s direct-benefit estoppel and third-party beneficiary arguments were lacking: because Belhaven contends that Hayes was incapacitated, she could not knowingly seek or obtain benefits from the agreement. "Nor does Smith’s largely negligence-based lawsuit seek to enforce the contract’s terms or require determination by reference to the contract. So Smith is not estopped from pursuing these claims."