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Agreement To Arbitrate Upheld In Georgia Wrongful Death Action

An interesting question was recently raised in a Georgia court – whether an agreement to arbitrate continues to hold in the event that one of the parties to the agreement dies.

The plaintiff, Bernard Norton brought a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his wife Lola Norton, against United Health Services of Georgia, Inc.; UHS – Pruitt Holdings, Inc.; PruitHealth, Inc.; PruittHealth Care Management; PruittHealth-Property Management; PruittHealth Consulting Services; PruittHealth Therapy Services; PruittHealth-Toccoa; and Trcy Ivester; all of which were affiliated with Lola’s nursing home.

The plaintiff based his lawsuit on claims that negligent treatment caused his wife’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home.

The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and the plaintiff appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court then agreed to bring the case under its review to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act and entered into by a person who is now deceased was also enforceable against the deceased’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action.

The arbitration provision that the plaintiff called into question stated:

“This Agreement shall insure to the benefit of and bind the Patient/Resident and the Healthcare Center, their successors, assigns, and intended and incidental beneficiaries…The term “Patient/Resident” shall include the Patient/Resident, his or her guardian, attorney-in-fact, agent, sponsor, representative, or any person whose claim is derived through or on behalf of the Patient/Resident, including, in addition to those already listed in his Paragraph , any parent, spouse, child executor, administrator, heir, or survivor entitled to bring a wrongful death claim.”

By the language contained within the above written paragraph, the Supreme Court agreed that the plaintiff was bound to arbitration. The court reasoned that the case was controlled by the precedent that a wrongful-death action is derivative of a decedent’s right of action. Because arbitration is an affirmative defense since Lola signed the agreement to arbitrate claims against the defendants, any claims which are a derivative of claims Lola could have pursued had she been alive to do so are also held to the same agreement to arbitrate even if brought by beneficiaries.

Medical malpractice can have devastating effects that last a lifetime. If you have been injured by a physician’s neglect, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian will work to get you the full compensation to which you are entitled. Call 800-529-6162 today or contact them online for a free case evaluation. They handle cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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