New Mexico Skilled Nursing Facility Sued for Wrongful Death Successfully Invokes Arbitration Agreement

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.

The court then analyzed whether the arbitration agreement expressed a specific intent by the parties to submit to an arbitrator the question of whether an agreement to arbitrate exists, concluding that it did.  The court found significant language in the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) Alternative Dispute Resolution Services Rules of Procedure, which were incorporated by reference into the arbitration agreement.  The court looked to Rule 3.1 of the AHLA, which the court explained states: “After receiving appropriate evidence and argument, the arbitrator, once appointed, shall have the power to determine his or her jurisdiction and any issues of arbitrability.”  The court also looked to Rule 4.1 of the AHLA, which the court explained states, in relevant part: “an arbitrator has the power to . . . determine his or her own power and to interpret the Rules.”  The court ultimately rejected the arguments advanced against arbitration and in favor of discovery, and granted the motion to compel arbitration.

Negligence can be devastating, and lead to personal injuries or loss of life.  An award of monetary damages can assist people coping with the wrongful death of a loved one. It help family members and other loved ones with losses, including the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident.  To understand more about your case, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.

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