Thursday, February 23, 2012
Two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virginia. The West Virginia court held that all pre-dispute arbitration agreements for personal injury and wrongful death claims against nursing homes were not enforceable.
Three different West Virginia residents had brought three negligence suits against nursing homes. In each case, a family member had entered into a binding arbitration agreement with the nursing home prior to the acts of negligence. In all three cases, family members brought personal injury and wrongful death suits against the nursing homes after the residents died. Two of the cases were dismissed because of the arbitration agreements, but one was brought before the West Virginia Supreme Court with two other cases on a certified question.
With regard to all three cases, the West Virginia court said that an arbitration clause in a nursing home agreement adopted prior to the negligence that leads to personal injury or wrongful death is unenforceable as a matter of public policy. The court also found the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act unpersuasive.
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision, holding that “the West Virginia court misread and disregarded national precedent and controlling federal law regarding the Federal Arbitration Act.” On remand, the Supreme Court instructed the West Virginia Court to look at whether the arbitration clauses would be considered unenforceable on other grounds that are not specific to arbitration and preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.
See Ryan Brown, U.S. Supreme Court Overturns WV Court’s Decision that Prohibited Arbitration Agreements in Nursing Home Personal Injury Cases, American Health Lawyers Association, Feb. 22, 2012; see also Marmet Health Care Center, Inc. v. Brown et al., 565 U.S. ___ (2012).