I’ve written a lot here about the trouble with arbitration agreements in nursing home negligence lawsuits. Arbitration is a form of “private judging” that allows disputes to be resolved out of court. It’s often touted as quicker and less expensive than going to court, and thus advantageous to both sides of the dispute. But for nursing home companies, arbitration is often the preferred solution because it allows them to hide allegations of serious abuse or neglect, away from public records. In some cases, arbitration companies have even been known to decide cases in a way that’s most favorable to their customers–the nursing home companies, who send them the cases and sometimes pay all of the bill. That’s why I was pleased to see Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., a Pennsylvania Superior Court case denying an attempt to take the dispute to arbitration.
Vincent Pisano was admitted to Belair Health and Rehabilitation Center in April of 2010. His daughter, Jamie Pisano, had his power of attorney at the time and executed an agreement saying any dispute would be resolved by mandatory binding arbitration. Some time later, Vincent Pisano died at the facility. His family alleges negligence by Extendicare (doing business as Belair) in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by son Michael Pisano, individually and as administrator of his father’s estate. Jamie Pisano executed a disclaimer and renunciation in October of 2011, giving up all proceeds in a recovery for wrongful death, and is thus not a party to the case. In trial court, Extendicare objected to the court’s jurisdiction, citing the arbitration agreement. The trial court refused to compel arbitration, however. The parties agree that the agreement is valid and binding, the court said, but the wrongful death action was outside its scope.
Extendicare appealed, but the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed. In Pennsylvania, wrongful death actions by the estate of the deceased are separate from survival actions by the deceased person’s immediate family. In this case, the agreement in dispute is broad enough to cover tort claims as well as contract claims. In relevant part, it says the parties agree to arbitration of “all disputes arising out of or relating in any way to this Agreement or to the Resident’s stay at the center [including] …wrongful death.” Thus, the case turns on whether a Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuit is derived from Vincent Pisano’s rights. The Superior Court ruled that it is not. Pennsylvania courts have consistently ruled that wrongful death and survival actions are two separate rights of action deriving from a single death, the court said, but not from the decedent’s rights. Thus, because Extendicare’s agreement is between it and Vincent Pisano, it does not bind his family, the court found.
This is good news for Pennsylvania families that suffered a wrongful death because of nursing home abuse or neglect. The Superior Court is not the highest court in Pennsylvania, but if its reasoning is adopted by higher courts, it will be settled law in our state that arbitration agreements don’t bind family members who never signed them. And that’s important, because as I mentioned, arbitration is often not friendly to families hurt by nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania. It takes away their right to settle disputes in open court, file appeals and more. If this case is appealed further, I will be interested to watch its progress.
If your family suffered a serious injury or the loss of a loved one because of neglect or abuse in a Pennsylvania nursing home, don’t wait to call Rosenbaum & Associates to discuss your situation and your legal rights. For a free consultation, send us a message online or call today at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7.
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