State Supreme Court ruling changes outcome of wrongful death appeal

By Carrie Salls | Jul 26, 2017

HARRISBURG – A wrongful death and survival lawsuit was sent back to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County for trial after a state Supreme Court ruling set a new precedent, according to a ruling made July 11 by the state Superior Court.

The Superior Court said it originally ruled on the case of Roy J. Burkett Jr. v. St. Francis Country House, Catholic Healthcare Services and Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2016, by denying the defendants’ motion for arbitration.

Based on a 2013 Superior Court decision entered in a separate case, the Superior Court said the common pleas court “determined that Burkett was a non-intended third party, in his capacity as administrator of the estate” of his mother, Nannie Burkett, who died while living at St. Francis Country House.

Roy Burkett alleged that his mother “sustained serious and permanent injuries, which were directly and proximately caused by the negligence of the facility,” the Superior Court ruling said.

“Moreover, the court concluded Burkett was not bound under the arbitration clause to arbitrate either the wrongful death or survival claims,” the Superior Court said in the July 11 ruling. “Consequently, on Aug. 21, 2013, the trial court entered an order denying St. Francis’ motion to compel arbitration.”

On appeal, and again based on its own decision entered in Pisano v. Extendicare Homes Inc., the Superior Court upheld the lower court’s decision not to order arbitration of the wrongful death claim.

However, in connection with a separate survival claim, the Superior Court said it had to rely on a ruling it made in Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities Inc., which “required consolidation of wrongful death and survival actions for trial.”

According to the July 11 ruling, “the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the decision in Taylor I,” because of a conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act.

As a result, the Superior Court confirmed its earlier decision that “the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to compel arbitration of Burkett’s wrongful death claims,” entitling him to a trial on that claim, and remanded contract-based claims related to the survival lawsuit back to the common pleas court.

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