State supreme court allows SNFs to arbitrate survival claims

Pennsylvania nursing homes will be able to force survival claims from deceased residents' estates into arbitration, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The issue surrounded the fact that in Pennsylvania survival claims, which seek damages for a decedent's estate, can be compelled into arbitration using mandatory arbitration clauses but wrongful death claims cannot. A state rule required that survival and wrongful death actions be consolidated for trial, a move that in some cases can strip nursing home providers of their ability to arbitrate survival claims.

The family of a resident who died during her stay at an Extendicare Health Facilities nursing home brought wrongful death and survival claims against the provider, which Extendicare eventually tried to split in order to compel arbitration of the survival claim.

A trial court ruled, and a state Superior Court later affirmed, that the two claims could not be split in accordance with state law.

In its Sept. 28 ruling, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the previous courts' decisions and concluded that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted the state rules, effectively requiring courts to compel arbitration of any claim that's subject to arbitration agreements.

“The decision reinforces the right of nursing homes to require plaintiffs in survival actions to stick to agreements to arbitrate, even when that may be contrary to Pennsylvania law,” Katherine Benesch, principal at Benesch & Associates LLC, told Bloomberg BNA.

The ruling is unlikely to impact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' recently released rule for nursing homes, which prohibits pre-dispute arbitration, BNA reported.

The case, Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc., will return to trial court to determine whether the arbitration agreement signed by the resident's representative is enforceable.