It can be very important for litigants asserting personal injury and wrongful death claims to have their day in court. Arbitration agreements can cut off the right of access. In a ruling in favor of a New Mexico skilled nursing facility, a federal district court recently upheld an arbitration agreement following the filing of a state court lawsuit for wrongful death against the facility.
The litigation commenced after a woman who was a resident at an Albuquerque, New Mexico facility from March 4 to March 8, 2016 died from complications of untreated diabetes. Allegedly, the woman had designated another woman as her attorney in fact on May 24, 2014 and on March 5, 2016 the woman who had been designated signed a resident admission agreement on behalf of the woman resident in the facility that included an arbitration agreement. After the resident died, a personal representative of her estate and her brother filed a New Mexico state court complaint seeking damages for her wrongful death. The facility where the deceased had been resident filed a separate lawsuit in New Mexico federal court to compel arbitration of all matters related to the care and treatment that the resident had received at the facility.
The court’s analysis was very friendly to the facility, citing for example U.S. Supreme Court language from another case that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) articulates a strong national policy in favor of arbitration and establishes that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration. The court explained that, under the FAA, arbitration agreements are on equal footing with other contracts, and that the court was to determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute at issue.