Florida Supreme Court Rules to Uphold Arbitration Agreement, Even in a Wrongful Death Claim
Wednesday, February, 20, 2013
The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that nursing home arbitration agreements must be upheld, even if the person who signed the agreement dies while staying in the nursing home. The details of the case involved Henry Lee Stewart, a resident at Avante at Leesburg, Inc., and the wrongful death lawsuit that his family members wished to file against the nursing home. According to Stewart’s family, the nursing home staff were guilty of neglect, leading to Stewart’s wrongful death. The family also wanted to sue for depravation of rights when the nursing home insisted that arbitration be used to solve the dispute, due to an arbitration agreement that had been signed by Stewart.
The family, in attempting to file its claim, alleges that Stewart passed away just a few days after being admitted to the nursing home facility in May of 2006. He was admitted for the purpose of rehabilitation after undergoing a major surgery. Due to his death and the circumstances surrounding it, the family intended to sue the nursing facility for neglect. A personal representative of Stewart’s estate, Debra Laizure, also planned to file a claim for over $15,000 for depravation of rights because the nursing home insisted that any lawsuit be arbitrated, even lawsuits involving wrongful death. When Laizure and the Stewart family filed a suit in court, Avante at Leesburg filed a motion requesting that the court compel arbitration, since Stewart signed an arbitration agreement on May 15th, a day after entering the nursing facility as a resident.
According to Laizure, claims for wrongful death were not arbitrable. However, the trial court that initially heard the case ruled that the case was, in fact, arbitrable, and that all beneficiaries of the estate were “third-party beneficiaries,” which were included in the arbitration agreement. Laizure then filed an appeal at the Daytona Beach-based 5th District Court of Appeal, which deferred the case to the Florida Supreme Court
According to the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, "In sum, the wrongful death claims in this case are clearly within the scope of the arbitration agreement. With respect to whether they are arbitrable, we conclude that the estate and statutory heirs are bound by the arbitration agreement to the same extent that Stewart would have been bound. Therefore, they are required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims under the arbitration agreement signed by Stewart."