Nursing Home’s Arbitration Agreement Did Not Apply to Wrongful Death Claims

A woman was admitted to a long-term care facility. Her agent signed the admission documents, which included an arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement provided that any claim, controversy, dispute, or disagreement arising out of or in connection with the care rendered to the woman would be determined by submission to neutral, binding arbitration. It purported to bind not only the woman, but any future legal representatives, heirs, successors, etc., who might assert a claim against the long-term care facility.


After residing at the facility for almost two years, the woman and her agents sued the long-term care facility for negligence, violation of the Nursing Home Care Act (NHCA), and breach of contract, arising out of the woman's care and treatment. The facility filed a motion to compel arbitration. The woman died before filing a response to the motion. The personal representative of the woman's estate filed a motion to substitute parties, and then brought additional claims for wrongful death and survival.


The personal representative filed a response to the motion to compel arbitration arguing that the facility could not compel arbitration of the wrongful death claim because it was independent of the woman’s claims and did not arise until the woman’s death. Further, the response contended that the estate’s personal representative and the woman’s wrongful death beneficiaries did not sign the arbitration agreement in their personal capacities and were not bound by the woman's arbitration agreement. The Oklahoma County District Court denied the facility’s motion to compel arbitration of the wrongful death claims.


The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed. The court held that the arbitration agreement signed by the woman's agent was not binding on the personal representative of the estate and the woman’s wrongful death beneficiaries.


The arbitration agreement that required the woman’s claims to go through arbitration did not bind her estate or her wrongful death beneficiaries to arbitration of their wrongful death claim. The court held that the wrongful death claim was not wholly derivative of the negligence claim that the woman would have been able to pursue had she lived. Neither the personal representative of the estate nor the beneficiaries consented to arbitration because they did not sign the admission documents in their personal capacities. The claim under the Wrongful Death Act accrued separately to the wrongful death beneficiaries and was intended to compensate them for their own losses that were separate and distinct from any claims that the woman could have pursued.


The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed the trial court’s denial of the long-term care facility’s motion to compel arbitration of the wrongful death claims.


See: Boler v. Security Health Care, L.L.C., 2014 WL 4840437, 2014 OK 80 (Okla., September 30, 2014) (not designated for publication).