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Superior Court of Pennsylvania Upholds Deceased’s Estate’s Right to File Wrongful Death Suit Over Arbitration

In Pennsylvania, when parties enter into an agreement with one another, part of that agreement may include a requirement to arbitrate a claim in lieu of filing a lawsuit through the Commonwealth’s court system.  Arbitration operates similarly to the judicial system, with an arbitrator deciding the case rather than an elected judge or jury.  Agreements that require submission of claims to an arbitrator are governed by the Pennsylvania Uniform Arbitration Act.  If an agreement defers to arbitration rather than the civil justice system, the damages that can be recovered by an injured party can potentially be smaller than what they would have been if a civil action was filed.

Wrongful Death Lawyers

The Superior Court recently considered an appeal by a healthcare entity that objected to the trial court’s refusal to send a set of wrongful death and survival claims to arbitration.  The civil suit originated from the injuries and ultimate death of a woman who lived in special housing that included non-acute medical care.  The woman, while living at this residence, needed hospitalization after becoming unresponsive. Seven months later, she broke her hip and needed surgery at a different medical center.  While the woman was hospitalized, a skin tear and redness were noticed on her tail bone, but no pressure ulcer.

The woman was then moved to a different nursing facility under the same company that owned her original residence.  At this point, three pressure ulcers , or bed sores, were noticed, and in a week the woman gained 15 pounds from the added fluid and began experiencing cardiac issues.  The pressure ulcer began to increase in size and was filled with infected fluid that needed to be drained.  By the next month, the wound was extremely infected, and the woman had pitting edema in her legs.  The woman was transferred twice after that to be treated for the wound, but she eventually died in hospice care. 

After her death, the co-executors of her estate filed a wrongful death suit and survival claim against the company that owned the residential facility and the first two treatment centers.  The medical care company objected, arguing that the claims should have been sent to arbitration, per the agreement signed by the woman’s power of attorney.  The trial judge overruled the motion based on the case of Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., which held that an arbitration agreement does not bind the beneficiaries of a wrongful death suit.  The court then refused to separate the survival action against the medical care, looking to Commonwealth law Pa.R.C.P 213(e), which requires consolidation of wrongful death and survival action claims for trial.  The Superior Court wholly agreed with the trial court’s ruling, pointing out that the legislature encouraged consolidation to avoid duplicate recovery.  The appellate court also noted that, since the damages frequently overlap, it would be much more efficient to try the consolidated actions in civil court.

The Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the experience you need to litigate wrongful death and survival claims.  We understand the emotional and financial difficulties facing family members who seek accountability for the negligence of caretakers, and we will aggressively pursue all avenues of legal relief.  For a free, confidential consultation, call 570-344-1266.

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