The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently released a decision reversing a lower appellate decision that determined the defendant nursing home maintained their right to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s wrongful death claim against them, filed on behalf of the plaintiff’s deceased mother. The state supreme court determined that by litigating several issues both before and after the decedent’s passing, the defendant had given up their right to enforce an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff when her mother moved into the nursing home.The Plaintiff’s Mother’s Health Declined Quickly after Moving into the Nursing Home
The case of Johnson v. Heritage Healthcare was filed based on the plaintiff’s mother’s quickly deteriorating health and eventual death while living in a nursing home operated by the defendant. According to the facts recited in the supreme court opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was in good health when she moved into the home, but her condition dramatically worsened within six months of moving in. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s negligence resulted in her mother’s poor health and eventual death, and she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against them after her mother’s passing.
Prior to the Wrongful Death Lawsuit, the Plaintiff Sought Her Mother’s Medical Records from the Defendant
After her mother’s condition worsened but before her death, the plaintiff filed an action against the defendant, seeking her mother’s medical records to determine why her health had deteriorated so quickly while under the defendant’s care. Although the plaintiff had signed an agreement to pursue claims through arbitration rather than in a state court proceeding, the defendant responded to the plaintiff’s claims in state court. The defendant vehemently resisted the plaintiff’s attempt to access her mother’s medical records, refusing to turn them over after the court ordered that they do so. Until her mother died, the plaintiff was unable to access her medical records in spite of the court’s order compelling the defendant to release them.
After Further Delay and Several Court Appearances, the Defendant Attempts to Enforce the Arbitration Agreement
Over two years after the plaintiff’s mother died, and after several court appearances and other disputes between the parties, the defendant asked the district court to compel arbitration for the plaintiff’s claim. The district court denied the request, ruling that by participating in court proceedings surrounding the plaintiff’s claim both before and after her death, the defendant waived their right to compel arbitration.
The defendant appealed the ruling to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, where a decision was reached in the defendant’s favor. The state supreme court saw the issue differently after the plaintiff appealed, ruling that the defendant’s participation in the proceedings and behavior had cost the plaintiff substantial time and money, and that they had waived their right to compel arbitration by failing to demand arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims earlier. Based on this ruling, the plaintiff’s claim will return to the district court to move toward a settlement or trial.
Arbitration Agreements and South Florida Negligence Claims
Many businesses and organizations include arbitration clauses in contracts into which they enter with members of the public. An arbitration clause states that by entering into the contract, the parties are waiving their right to pursue certain claims through the courts, and instead they agree to allow a neutral private arbitrator to resolve claims through simplified proceedings. Arbitration agreements are generally claimed to be used to simplify the resolution of claims for both parties, but arbitration tends to favor defendants over plaintiffs.
Although arbitration agreements are binding, it is possible for a defendant to waive their right to enforce the agreement if they fail to raise the defense soon enough in a state or federal court action brought by a plaintiff, as occurred in the Johnson case. Plaintiffs who successfully deny an arbitration agreement as waived may have an advantage by pursuing their claim through the courts.
Are You a Victim of Negligence?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of the negligence of a company or organization, the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can assist you with your claim for damages. If you entered into an arbitration agreement with the negligent party, our lawyers can represent you through the arbitration process or possibly have the agreement thrown out and pursue your claim through the courts. Our qualified Miami wrongful death attorneys represent clients in Miami and throughout South Florida in medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other negligence cases. If you have been injured, contact us toll-free at 877-448-8585 or via our online contact form for a free consultation. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.
More Blog Posts:
State Supreme Court Reverses Judgment for Defendant in Wrongful Death Claim, May 12, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog
Plaintiff’s Underinsured Motorist Claim Denied by Appellate Court, May 27, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog