Friday, February 9, 2007
High Court: Arbitration Agreement Patient Signed Covered Treatment Given Two Years Later
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
An arbitration agreement that a chiropractic patient signed when receiving his first treatment applied to a medical malpractice claim arising from treatment for a different condition two years later, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Reversing a decision by the Third District Court of Appeal, the justices unanimously held that the plain language of an arbitration agreement between Terry Reigelsperger and chiropractor James M. Siller, who practices in Chico, requires Reigelsperger’s claim against the doctor to be arbitrated.
Reigelsperger first received treatment from Siller in August 2000 for severe lower back pain. Following his treatment session, he signed an arbitration agreement and paid his bill and did not visit Siller again for two years.
Article 1 of the agreement required the parties to submit to arbitration “any” medical malpractice dispute, and article 2 stated it was intended to bind the patient and health care provider treating the patient both “now or in the future.”
In addition to the arbitration agreement, he signed an “informed consent” printed on the reverse side of the arbitration agreement that read:
“I intend this consent form to cover the entire course of treatment for my present condition and for any future condition(s) for which I seek treatment.”
Reigelsperger sued Siller for malpractice in connection with his second treatment.
Sutter County Superior Court Judge Perry Parker denied Siller’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that Reigelsperger’s second visit was not a “subsequent open-book account transaction” connected to his first treatment, and thus was not governed by the arbitration agreement he signed on his first visit.
Under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1295, a medical services contract containing certain statutorily designated language—set forth in article 1 of Reigelsperger’s agreement with Siller—operates to govern “all subsequent open-book transaction for medical services for which the contract was signed” until or unless it is rescinded.
In affirming Parker, the Court of Appeal held that the phrase “now or in the future” in the arbitration agreement Reigelsperger signed “cannot reasonably be construed to bind the parties in perpetuity…” and noted that if the parties intended for the agreement to apply to the treatment of future conditions, they would have said so as they did in the “informed consent.”
“Because they did not,” the panel reasoned, “we find the arbitration agreement does not apply to future treatment of a different condition not contemplated by the parties at the time Riegelsperger signed the agreement in the absence of an ongoing doctor-patient relationship.”
But the high court said the arbitration agreement’s plain language bound the parties to arbitrate their dispute.
Justice Carol A. Corrigan, writing for the court, explained:
“Regardless of whether the parties had an open-book account relationship within the meaning of section 1295, subdivision (c), their obligation to arbitrate under article 2 of their agreement would stand on its own. Having satisfied the statue, the parties remained free to adopt a broader arbitration agreement.”
The justices rejected Reigelsperger’s contention that he did not intend to return to Siller for treatment.
“Regardless of whether Reigelsperger had a present intention to return for treatment, he agreed that if he did decide to do so, the arbitration provision in article 2 would apply to a future dispute,” Corrigan wrote.
As for the Third District’s point about the consent agreement, the justice said:
“Logic and standard rules of construction undermine the Court of Appeal’s reasoning. The informed consent agreement appears on page two of the arbitration form. Reigelsperger signed both at the same time. The two agreements should, therefore, be construed together.”
Downtown Los Angeles attorney Richard G. Reinjohn, who represented Siller on appeal, told the MetNews that the lower courts had misunderstood the nature of chiropractic treatment.
“When a person comes into a chiropractor for treatment the first time and signs all the documents, and comes back a year later, it’s not a second treatment, it’s an ongoing treatment,” he said.
“They’re an ongoing patient,” he continued. “It would be silly to have them sign the same document again. Obviously there’s a time out in space where this wouldn’t work, but certainly not a year [or two] later.”
Reigelsperger’s counsel could not be reached for comment.
The case is Reigelsperger v. Siller, 07 S.O.S. 728.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company