Maryland Court of Special Appeals Sides with Plaintiff Regarding Arbitration of Wrongful Death Claims

In a recent appeal, a Maryland plaintiff won her right to pursue a wrongful death claim against a nursing home after her mother died under its care. Specifically, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Futurecare Northpoint, LLC v. Peeler (Md. Ct. Spec. App. July 28, 2016) addressed the issue of whether wrongful death beneficiaries are bound by a valid arbitration agreement executed by the decedent before her death. The lower court denied the defendant nursing facility’s motion to compel arbitration of the claims, and the defendant appealed.

In Futurecare, the decedent signed a contract upon her admission to the defendant’s nursing facility, agreeing to resolve any claims arising out of her care through binding arbitration. A section of that agreement also extended the arbitration to claims of the decedent’s beneficiaries and survivors and waived their right to a jury trial. After the decedent’s death, her daughter filed a wrongful death claim against the defendant for medical malpractice, which the defendant argued was subject to arbitration pursuant to the agreement.

Arbitration is a process whereby parties voluntarily agree to substitute a private tribunal for the public tribunal (the state courts) that would be otherwise available to them. On appeal, the court cited Maryland’s arbitration statute, which provides that a written contract to submit to arbitration any controversy arising between the parties in the future is valid and enforceable. The court then explained that an arbitration agreement cannot impose obligations on persons who are not parties to it and do not agree to its terms. As an exception to that rule, however, a third party may be required to arbitrate if he or she is acting in a representative capacity on behalf of a party to the agreement. For example, many causes of action that “survive” a party’s death may be brought by the decedent’s personal representative for the benefit of the estate.

In Futurecare, however, the court differentiated the plaintiff’s wrongful death claim from a survival claim, explaining that an action brought under Maryland’s wrongful death statute is separate, distinct, and independent from a survival action, even when those actions arise out of a common tortious act. In creating a new cause of action for the decedent’s survivors, the law provided the plaintiff with the right to recover compensation for her own losses, not in a representative capacity. As a result, the matter did not fall within the aforementioned exception to require arbitration. The court therefore held that the decedent’s arbitration agreement did not bind her family members to arbitrate a claim under the Maryland wrongful death statute, and it allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her claim.

Nursing home abuse is a serious issue. If a member of your family or a loved one has been a victim of negligent care, you may be able to seek compensation for their injuries. At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A., our experienced attorneys represent individuals in a variety of cases involving medical malpractice, car accidents, and other injuries. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled nursing home negligence lawyers, contact Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules Tobacco and Asbestos Defendants Can Be Joined in Wrongful Death Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 2, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Upholds Majority of Million-Dollar Jury Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published December 9, 2015

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