A non-English speaker is bound by an English-language arbitration agreement unless he is prevented from obtaining assistance in understanding it.
Miguel Caballero, who reads and writes only in Spanish, signed a two-page arbitration agreement written in English when his mother was admitted to Premier Care’s facility. Three years later, Caballero’s mother was fatally injured in a fall while being transferred by Premier Care employees. Caballero and his siblings sued Premier Care and others for medical negligence and other claims. Premier Care moved to compel arbitration, which Caballero opposed on the ground he did not sign a Spanish language arbitration agreement and no one explained the English language agreement to him. Premier Care’s representative declared that her practice is to allow residents or their representatives to review the agreement prior to signing it, and that a Spanish-speaking staff member assists by explaining and translating the agreement and answering questions. The representative did not recall Caballero having any questions. The trial court denied Premier Care’s petition to compel arbitration, finding that Premier Care failed to sufficiently inform Caballero of the arbitration agreement’s contents, particularly since it failed to present a declaration from any Spanish-speaking staff member who read and explained the agreement to Caballero.
The Court of Appeal reversed. Under general principles of contract law, Caballero’s execution of the arbitration agreement manifested his assent to its terms. Additionally, the agreement complied with the requirements of Civil Code section 1295 and thus was not an unenforceable contract of adhesion, unconscionable, or otherwise improper. Premier Care had no burden to determine whether Caballero could understand the agreement because a person who does not understand English sufficiently to comprehend an English-language contract must request that it be read or explained to him. Here, Caballero presented no evidence that he requested (or was unable to obtain) such assistance, or that Premier Care engaged in fraud or overreaching. Moreover, two uppercase notices in red directly above the signature blocks should have alerted Caballero to the significance of those provisions even if he could not read them. Accordingly, the trial court erred in denying arbitration.
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission. For more information regarding this bulletin, please contact H. Thomas Watson, Horvitz & Levy LLP, at 818-995-0800 or email@example.com.