Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Providers registered a significant win last week when Massachusetts’ top court emphatically reconfirmed that relatives of deceased nursing home residents cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit against nursing homes if they have a signed arbitration agreement with the facility. A federal appeals court had asked for the higher review. 

The unanimous ruling was handed down Thursday by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). The court reviewed the case at the request of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked for its opinion on the state’s wrongful death statute, arbitration agreements and relatives looking to suit on behalf of a deceased resident, the Boston Globe reported.

The SJC’s ruling means that if a resident signs an agreement and waives their right to sue then that also applies to their relatives, the report noted. 

“Agreements are enforceable provided that the agreement is executed by an authorized person and that it was not induced by fraud or undue influence and provided that it is not unconscionable,” the Professional Liability Association, which is composed of Massachusetts hospital and health care providers, wrote in an amicus brief.

The case stemmed from the Dec. 2013 death of Emma Schrader who was a resident at the Golden Living Center – Heathwood, a skilled nursing facility in Chestnut Hill, MA. Schrader’s daughter, Jackalyn, signed an arbitration agreement and waived her right to sue when her mother moved into the facility. 

The daughter later filed a wrongful death suit after her mother, who had undergone surgery, died. A federal court, however, found that she could not sue because of the arbitration agreement. 

The Massachusetts ruling strengthening the legality of arbitration agreements comes as other courts have nullified the agreements between residents and facilities facing wrongful death lawsuits. 

Another recent notable wrongful death lawsuit, against an Arizona SNF, that stemmed from a wheelchair accident, was allowed to move forward following a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals. The court found that because the pushing of a wheelchair didn’t count as a medical service, and therefore didn’t fit within the scope of an arbitration agreement, the facility couldn’t compel arbitration to solve the dispute.