HARRISBURG – A negligence and wrongful death action against a Lancaster nursing care facility has been remanded to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, per a recent decision from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
On Dec. 5, the Superior Court ordered further proceedings in the negligence and professional liability action filed by Lorraine F. Brosius (Executrix of the Estate of William B. Brosius) against Manor Care of Lancaster PA, HCR Manor Care, Inc., Manor Care Inc., HCR Healthcare and HCR Healthcare II, III, HCRMC Operations, Heartland Employment Services, Select Medical Corporation, Select Medical of Pennsylvania, Inc., Select Specialty Hospitals, Inc., Select Specialty Hospital-Camp Hill, Inc. and Select Specialty Hospital York, remanded to the trial court.
Superior Court Judge Kate Ford Elliott wrote the Court’s opinion in this case.
Brosius initially filed a complaint against the defendants on June 12, 2014, in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, containing claims under the Survivor Statute (42 Pa.C.S. Section 8302) and the Wrongful Death Statute (42 Pa.C.S. Section 8301).
According to the complaint, the defendants’ caused William’s death through mismanagement, under-budgeting, and gross understaffing, which resulted in the decedent “suffering a Stage III sacral ulcer, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sepsis, C-Diff, dehydration, malnutrition, poor hygiene, severe pain, and ultimately death.”
ManorCare filed preliminary objections, seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement it had with Brosius. On April 13, 2015, the trial court overruled ManorCare’s preliminary objections motion and refused to transfer the case to arbitration, due to the case Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc.
This action stated “the wrongful death beneficiaries’ constitutional right to a jury trial and the state’s interest in litigating wrongful death and survival claims together require that they all proceed in court rather than arbitration.”
“In refusing to compel arbitration, the trial court relied on this court’s decision in Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc., which held that Pa.R.C.P. 213(e) required that wrongful death and survival actions be consolidated for trial. Since, under Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., wrongful death beneficiaries are not bound by an arbitration agreement executed by the decedent, the claims cannot be severed and must be litigated together in one proceeding. The defendants agreed that the trial court and this court were bound by our decision in Taylor which was controlling,” Ford Elliott said.
In Taylor, the patient had signed an arbitration agreement and under Pennsylvania law, the “survival claim” on her behalf had to be arbitrated – but her heirs’ wrongful death claims were not subject to arbitration. However, a rule of state civil procedure required that “survival actions be consolidated with wrongful death actions for trial.”
Ford Elliott said the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the Superior Court’s decision in Taylor, holding Rule 213(e) of Civil Procedure conflicts with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and is pre-empted.
“Section 2 of the FAA binds state courts to compel arbitration of claims subject to an arbitration agreement, even at the expense of judicial efficiency. Therefore, our Supreme Court in Taylor determined that the FAA mandated the severance of the non-arbitrable wrongful death action from the survival action to allow the latter to proceed to arbitration,” Ford Elliott commented.
“As in Taylor, in this case, plaintiff raised state law contract defenses to appellants’ preliminary objections, including that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. The savings clause of the FAA permits the application of generally applicable state contract law defenses such as fraud, duress, and unconscionability, to determine whether a valid contract to arbitrate exists,” Ford Elliott said.
In light of the final Supreme Court results of Taylor, the Superior Court chose to reverse and remand the instant action to the trial court.
“Since the trial court, following this court’s decisions in Pisano and Taylor, refused to bifurcate the claims and determined that they must be consolidated for trial, the trial court did not have the opportunity to address these issues. Therefore, we will remand to the trial court to address plaintiff’s fact-based defenses, including whatever further arbitration-related discovery is deemed necessary,” Ford Elliott concluded.
The plaintiff is represented by Erica C. Wilson of Wilkes & McHugh, in Philadelphia.
The defendant is represented by Sean P. O’Mahoney of Burns White, in West Conshohocken.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania case 789 MDA 2015
Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas case CI-14-05498
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org