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PA & WV Accidental Death Lawyer Blog

A Decedent’s Agreement to Arbitrate All Claims is Not Binding on Wrongful Death Claimants in Pennsylvania

In the previous posts, I discussed the difference between a wrongful death action and survival action in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A recent opinion, Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 2013 Pa. Super. LEXIS 2144*1 (August 12, 2013), from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provides an excellent example of the difference between the two actions.

In Pisano, the decedent’s daughter, using a Power of Attorney, signed an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement (“ADR Agreement”) on behalf of the decedent at the time of his admission to Belair Health Facility (“Belair”). The agreement provided “’that any and all disputes arising out of or in any way relating to this Agreement or to the Resident’s stay at the center [including] … death or wrongful death’ are subject to arbitration.” Pisano, 2013 Pa. Super. LEXIS at *6-7. Arbitration agreements take the fact finding and the awarding of damages from a jury and give it to an arbitrator(s). As such, the agreement means the decedent gave up his right to a trial by jury.

Following the decedent’s death, his son, as the administrator of decedent’s estate, commenced a wrongful death action against Belair in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries (decedent’s children). The administrator, however, conceded that the survival action was subject to the ADR Agreement.

As to the wrongful death action, Belair filed preliminary objections to the complaint arguing that the ADR Agreement required that the wrongful death action also be submitted to arbitration. The Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County denied the preliminary objections and refused to compel the wrongful death action to arbitration. Belair appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Noting this was an issue of first impression, the Superior Court found that the ADR Agreement was not binding on the wrongful death beneficiaries and thus the wrongful death action could proceed in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County. Specifically, the Superior Court stated: “[i]n sum, we hold that Pennsylvania’s wrongful death statute creates an independent action distinct from a survival claim that, although derived from the same tortious conduct, is not derivative of the rights of the decedent. We conclude, therefore, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Decedent’s contractual agreement with Belair to arbitrate all claims was not binding on the non-signatory wrongful death claimants.” Id. at 31.

This case is important in that it confirms wrongful death actions and survival actions are distinct claims.

My law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, handles wrongful death claims and survival claims arising from accidents in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information about my firm, please go to www.golawllc.com.

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