In an important decision for Massachusetts wrongful death claims, a federal appellate court asked the Massachusetts Supreme Court to consider whether wrongful death claims brought by the decedent’s heirs can be bound by an arbitration agreement signed by the decedent or by someone else on the decedent’s behalf.
According to the court’s opinion, the resident was admitted to a nursing home, and upon her admission, her daughter signed an arbitration agreement on her behalf. The agreement stated that it was not required for admission to the facility and that the agreement could be revoked within 30 days of signing it. The agreement stated that any dispute covered under the agreement must be resolved through alternative dispute resolution, which includes mediation, and if not successful, arbitration. The agreement further stated that it applied to the resident, as well as, to any person “whose claim is or may be derived through or on behalf of the Resident, including any next of kin, guardian, executor, administrator, legal representative, or heir of the Resident, and any person who has executed this Agreement on the Resident’s behalf.”
After her mother’s death, the daughter brought a wrongful death claim as a personal representative of her mother’s estate. The nursing home sought to compel arbitration of the wrongful death claim brought by the representative of a resident who died at the facility. The daughter argued that her wrongful death claims were not subject to the agreement to arbitrate because a beneficiary’s claims are independent of the decedent’s claims. The nursing home argued that beneficiaries of wrongful death claims in Massachusetts are derivative of the decedent’s wrongful death claim, and therefore, the agreement to arbitrate is binding on the derivatives.