U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding whether or not an arbitration agreement signed by a deceased nursing home resident is binding on family members.

Therefore, as handed down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s original decision Sept. 30, 2014, family members of a deceased Oklahoma nursing home resident won’t be compelled to arbitrate claims against her facility because they hadn’t signed the arbitration contract.

“Consent to arbitrate is an essential component of an enforceable arbitration agreement,” the state supreme court justices ruled.

The case reflects a national debate on whether survivors of deceased nursing home residents can take claims against facilities to court, despite the resident signing an arbitration agreement prior to his or her death. So far Florida, New Mexico, California, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Michigan courts have ruled survivors’ claims must be arbitrated, while Arizona, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, Washington, Missouri, Utah and Ohio said they don’t have to be arbitrated.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said that the results differ from state to state due to the way each court interprets its state’s wrongful death law. States in favor of arbitration reason that heirs’ claims are derivative of any claims made by the resident before death, and those claims must be arbitrated since the heirs “stand in the shoes” of their deceased relative.