Massachusetts Supreme Court to Address Scope of Arbitration Agreement in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

There is nothing more devastating than losing someone you love unexpectedly. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, our highly skilled Massachusetts wrongful death attorneys can help you take legal action. At The Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates, P.C., we are committed to helping our clients receive the closure and compensation they deserve in their case.

In GGNSC Chestnut Hill LLC v. Schrader, the First Circuit asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to determine whether a wrongful lawsuit filed by the decedent’s survivors can be bound by an arbitration agreement signed by the decedent or by a person on the decedent’s behalf.

The facts of the case are as follows. The resident was admitted to a nursing home and upon being admitted, her daughter, acting as her durable power of attorney, signed an arbitration agreement on her behalf. The agreement said that it was not necessary for admission to the nursing home and that it could be revoked within 30 days of signing. Under the agreement, any legal issues had to be addressed through alternative dispute resolution. In addition, the contract said that it was applicable to the resident and any individual whose claim was “derived through or on behalf of the resident, including any next of kin, guardian, executor, administrator, legal representative or heir of the resident” as well as anyone who executed the agreement on behalf of the resident.

When the women died, her daughter filed a wrongful death claim against the nursing home facility. The nursing home tried to compel arbitration. The daughter argued that the arbitration clause did not apply to the claim since a beneficiary’s claim is independent to that of the decedent’s claims. The federal court Judge disagreed concluding, “claims of wrongful death beneficiaries are derivative of the decedent’s claims.” The court found that the wrongful death claim against the nursing home fell within the scope of the arbitration agreement signed by a family member under a power of attorney shortly after the decedent’s admission to the facility. Thus, the federal court compelled arbitration.

The federal court’s decision was in keeping with the well-established federal and state policy of favouring the enforcement of arbitration agreements.

On appeal, the issue was whether the daughter was bound by her mother’s arbitration agreement. The daughter argued, once again, that her right to recovery was independent of the decedent’s wrongful death claim. The nursing home argued that Massachusetts’s beneficiaries’ wrongful death claims are derivative of the decedent’s wrongful death claim. The First Circuit used it’s discretion to certify the issue to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in essence, asking the SJC to make a determination.

If you have tragically lost someone in an incident that you believe was caused by someone else’s negligence, we can help. At The Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates, P.C., our seasoned Massachusetts lawyers have years of experience concentrating on  wrongful death claims and can apply our knowledge to your case. We will help you handle the legal dimensions of your loss so you can focus on healing. For a free consultation, call us today at 1-800-262-9200 or contact us online.