A nursing home wrongful death lawsuit must go to arbitration.
A recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court said that a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home in Leesburg must go to arbitration. The case is seen as a victory for the nursing home industry.
Many nursing homes include in their contracts with incoming patients a provision binding the parties to arbitration to resolve any lawsuits over the treatment provided at the facilities. These arbitration agreements are the subject of numerous lawsuits brought by plaintiffs who argue they improperly take away their right to a jury trial.
Debra Laizure brought the recent wrongful death suit against Avante at Leesburg after her father, Harry Stewart, died there in 2006, having been admitted four days earlier. Avante argued that a contract signed by Stewart bound Laizure to accept arbitration in the dispute. Laizure was not a party to the contract.
Laizure argued that an arbitration agreement entered into by Stewart could not cover a wrongful death claim because the claim belonged to Stewart’s estate and heirs.
The Justices unanimously found that the arbitration agreement applied to Laizure’s suit, upholding an earlier ruling by the Fifth District Court of Appeals.
“The agreement expressly encompasses claims arising out of or relating to Stewart’s stay at the facility, including negligence and malpractice, and is expressly binding upon and includes claims brought by Stewart’s heirs,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion. “As reflected in the terms of the arbitration agreement, it is clear that the contracting parties intended to include wrongful death claims such as those brought in this case.”
The Fifth District found that “the beneficiaries of the estate were intended third-party beneficiaries of the agreement” and referred to a similar case in the Fourth District in which the court ruled an arbitration agreement encompassed a wrongful death claim.
Although it ruled against Laizure, the Fifth District did send a certified question to the Supreme Court asking for further clarification of the issue, saying the question was “of great public importance.”
Pariente’s written opinion continued, “The question presented is whether an arbitration provision in an otherwise valid contract binds the signing party’s estate and heirs in a subsequent wrongful death case … we hold that it does. Because the signing party’s estate and heirs are bound by defenses that could be raised in a personal injury suit brought by the decedent, as well as by releases signed by the decedent, it would be anomalous to conclude that they are not also bound by a choice of forum agreement signed by the decedent in a wrongful death action arising out of the treatment and care of the decedent.”
Illustrating the importance of the issue, senior advocacy organization AARP and the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing home industry association, filed briefs in the case.
“This case has far-reaching implications for people requiring admission to long-term care facilities and their families,” the AARP said in its brief.
Robert Joyce is a Tampa nursing home litigation attorney at Joyce & Reyes Law Firm. To learn more about the Tampa nursing home litigation lawyer, visit http://www.joyceandreyespa.com/ or call 1.888.771.1529.