Top state court says arbitration agreement doesn't prevent family member from suing

Share this content:

The child of a deceased long-term care resident is not bound to an arbitration agreement because she signed it on behalf of her mother — not herself — an Illinois court ruled Thursday.

Following the death of her mother, Joyce Gott, at Odin Healthcare Center in Odin, IL, Sue Carter filed a wrongful death claim and sought damages for negligent care against the parent company, SSC Odin Operating Company, LLC. Odin countered that Carter and Gott had signed binding arbitration agreements in 2005 and 2006.

The court, however, agreed with lower courts that Carter “cannot be compelled to arbitrate the wrongful-death claim against defendant.”

“Plaintiff, as Gott's personal representative in the wrongful-death action, is merely a nominal party, effectively filing suit as a statutory trustee on behalf of the next of kin,” Judge Mary Jane Theis wrote. “Plaintiff is not prosecuting the wrongful-death claim on behalf of Gott, and thus plaintiff is not bound by Gott's agreement to arbitrate for purposes of this cause of action.”

The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had recently instructed the West Virginia Supreme Court to re-examine its ruling on arbitration, saying that it had incorrectly applied federal law. But Illinois has different reasons for striking down the arbitration, the court said.

“Our holding, unlike the West Virginia court's holding, is not based on a categorical antiarbitration rule; it is based on common law principles governing all contracts,” the court ruled.

The case was remanded to trial.