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Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Supreme Court Asked to Decide Arbitration in Wrongful Death Suits

Supreme court

In Pisano v. Extenditure Homes, Inc. 3013 Pa. Super. 232 (2013), the United States Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts a state law rule that prohibits enforcement of pre-dispute arbitration agreements in wrongful claims against wrongful death beneficiaries who did not sign the arbitration agreement. 

In Pisano, the decedent’s daughter executed a pre-dispute arbitration agreement upon the decedent’s admission to the defendant’s nursing facility.  The agreement was signed solely in her representative capacity as power of attorney.  The decedent’s family filed a lawsuit related to the decedent’s care and treatment.  At some point during the litigation, the decedent’s power of attorney executed a Disclaimer and Renunciation regarding any claims from the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleged both a survival action and a wrongful death claim.  The trial court held there was no dispute that the survival action was subject to arbitration.  However, the plaintiff asserted that the wrongful death claim was not subject to arbitration, arguing it belonged to beneficiaries and could not be waived by decedent. 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that a wrongful death claim was not subject to arbitration where the wrongful death beneficiary bringing the suit did not sign the agreement. 

It currently remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will hear the case.  The Court recently issued a ruling related to arbitration agreements in the nursing home context in Marmet Health Care Ctr., Inc. v. Brown, 132 S.Ct. 1201 (2012) ( per curiam).  The Court held arbitration agreements signed in the context of nursing home admissions are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides for personal injury claims. 

See Michael Bootier, U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Decide Whether Wrongful Death Suits are Subject to Arbitration, JD Supra, June 26, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


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