LANCASTER – A Lancaster County judge last year sent a lawsuit over the death of a resident of a Lancaster nursing home to arbitration. 

Court of Common Pleas Judge David L. Ashworth ordered the wrongful death and survival claims filed against Manor Care by the executor of the estate of a former resident to be bifurcated in accordance with an arbitration agreement, according to a Sept. 22 opinion.

The Superior Court previously ruled in the case that wrongful death claims joined with survival claims can be subject to arbitration agreements.

Ashworth said in his opinion that the law on which the courts had based their previous rulings has been changed by the state Supreme Court.

Richard Collins signed the documents required for admission to Manor Care’s Lancaster facility on Feb. 7, 2011, and “included in the series of documents presented to the patient for signature was an arbitration agreement.”

“This agreement provided that any disputes arising out of or in any way relating to the agreement or decedent’s stay at the facility ‘shall be admitted to binding arbitration,’” Ashworth wrote.

Andrew Collins filed a wrongful death and survival lawsuit against the Manor Care facility following Richard Collins’ death on April 11, 2011. The Manor Care defendants subsequently objected to the claims, citing that the admissions documents signed by Richard Collins.

“Relying on the Superior Court decision in Pisano v. Extendicare Homes Inc.,” Ashworth said in the Sept. 22 opinion that he initially overruled the Manor Care objections “seeking to compel arbitration of the wrongful death claim because a decedent’s agreement to arbitrate is not enforceable against the decedent’s wrongful death beneficiaries.”

In addition, Ashworth said “since (Pennsylvania law) mandated consolidation of wrongful death and survival actions, and only a judicial forum could accommodate the wrongful death beneficiaries’ right to a jury trial, I ruled that the survival claim could not be severed and sent to arbitration.”

The judge said that he did not initially rule on the enforceability of the arbitration agreement signed by Richard Collins.

Citing the same case law on which he based his first decision in the case, including Taylor v. Extendicare Homes Inc., which prohibited the bifurcation of the claims, Ashworth said the Superior Court upheld his ruling on June 18, 2015.

However, after the Superior Court entered its first ruling in the case, which was pending review by the state Supreme Court, Ashworth said the Supreme Court “reversed the Superior Court decision in Taylor I.”

“A petition for allowance of appeal was granted in the instant case on Nov. 15, 2016, and the Superior Court’s order affirming the overruling of preliminary objections to compel arbitration of claims brought under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts was vacated,” Ashworth wrote.

As a result, since “there is no clear and convincing evidence in the record to demonstrate that decedent lacked the capacity to enter into the contract,” Ashworth ultimately sustained Manor Care’s preliminary objections in the Sept. 22 opinion.

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