The United States Supreme Court was recently asked to consider whether an arbitration agreement precludes a wrongful death claim in a nursing home dispute. In Pisano v. Extendicare, the heirs of a man who passed away in 2011 while in the care of a Pennsylvania nursing home filed a lawsuit against the facility seeking damages for his alleged personal injuries and wrongful death. When the man was initially admitted to the skilled nursing facility, however, his daughter signed an agreement to arbitrate any future disputes with the institution. After the lawsuit was filed, the Wisconsin-based nursing home company asked ta trial court to compel the case to arbitration. The trial court refused to submit the wrongful death claim to arbitration and held that the parties’ arbitral agreement only applied to the man’s personal injury claims. According to the court, Pennsylvania’s wrongful death statute creates a cause of action that is separate and independent from any tort claims that are properly subject to the parties’ broad arbitration agreement. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the lower court’s decision.
In late May, Extendicare filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. The nursing home company argues the high court should review the case because there is currently a split among the states regarding whether or not nursing home arbitration agreements extend to wrongful death claims. In the past, courts in Ohio and Missouri have reportedly agreed with the Pennsylvania court and held that arbitration agreements do not apply to wrongful death causes of action. In contrast, courts in Texas, Florida, and other states have found that valid nursing home arbitral agreements preclude a wrongful death claim. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court agrees to hear this dispute.