Supreme Court allows nursing home wrongful death case to proceed

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A South Carolina woman can continue to pursue a wrongful death action against a nursing home even though she signed an arbitration agreement, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because the court declined on Monday to take the case, Ann Coleman is allowed to proceed. Coleman signed the arbitration agreement as well as admission and financial documents on behalf of her sister, Mary Brinson, who resided at Faith Health Care Center in Florence, SC. After Brinson died, Coleman sued the facility.

A trial court and the state supreme court in South Carolina both found in favor of Coleman, citing the state's Adult Care Consent Act. Under this law, surrogates can make decisions related to the healthcare and financial arrangements of incapacitated individuals. Because the arbitration agreement did not have to do with healthcare or finances, Coleman legally was not allowed to enter into the contract, the courts ruled.

The center appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Federal Arbitration Act should preempt South Carolina's law. The high court denied review. In the past, the court has refused to take on similar cases, prompting criticism from some observers. They say providers are being forced to operate with great uncertainty over the enforceability of their agreements.