Supreme Court will not weigh in on providers' arbitration agreement concerns

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The U.S. Supreme Court will not overturn two state court rulings allowing descendants of nursing home residents to bring wrongful death lawsuits against providers. Both cases involve arbitration agreements.

One case involves Joyce Gott, who died while she was a resident at Odin Healthcare Center in Odin, IL. Gott's daughter, Sue Carter, sued Odin after her mother's death. Odin argued that because Carter signed an arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother, she should not be able to sue. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Carter could bring the suit. She herself was not a party to that contract, because she was signing as her mother's representative, the court stated.

The second case involves nursing home operator Beverly Enterprises and plaintiff Donna Ping, who signed an arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Ping could bring a wrongful death suit against Beverly, because her power-of-attorney did not expressly give her the authority to sign an arbitration agreement, but only to make financial and healthcare decisions for her mother.

In petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court, both Odin and Beverly argued that state courts in Texas and elsewhere have decided differently on similar questions, so a definitive ruling is needed. Specifically, the nursing home companies were looking for the Supreme Court to establish that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts any state laws, such as those in Illinois and Kentucky, that treat wrongful death claims as an “independent cause of action.” States such as Texas treat wrongful death claims as “derivative,” which means that a resident's heirs would be bound by an arbitration agreement.

The Supreme Court declined to review both cases on Monday.