Wrongful death suit against SNF filed too late for arbitration, appeals court rules

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A lawsuit claiming an Ohio skilled nursing facility was negligent in a former resident's death can't be sent to arbitration since the claim was filed after the statute-of-limitations had expired, a state appeals court ruled this week.

A wrongful death complaint was filed in October 2014 against Altercare Post-Acute Rehabilitation Center Inc., of Kent, OH, by the estate administrator of Peggy Young, a resident who had passed away in June 2012 while living at the facility. Young's administrator had reportedly told the facility four months earlier of her intention to invoke the arbitration agreement signed by Young in regards to any wrongful death claims, which the facility refused.

Altercare's refusal to let the administrator's claims be submitted to arbitration “breached the arbitration agreement and intentionally interfered with the contract between the decedent and the facility,” she claimed. A trial court eventually sided with Young's administrator, denying Altercare's request for summary judgment and ordering the wrongful death claim to be arbitrated.

In an opinion published on Monday, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Appellate District found that the administrator's breach of contract allegation was dependent on a wrongful death claim that was filed beyond the two-year statute of limitations for such claims.

“The breach-of-contract claim was therefore a veiled attempt to assert a claim for which the statute-of-limitations period had passed,” Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice wrote in the court's 2-1 ruling.

The court also found Young's arbitration agreement was signed by a legal representative as well as an agent of Altercare, but not by any of Young's beneficiaries, excluding them as parties to the agreement.

“Because they are not parties to the agreement, they may not attempt to enforce it,” Westcott Rice wrote. “The arbitration process assumes the beneficiaries have a legally viable claim to arbitrate. In this case, no such claim exists.”

The appeals court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.