When a family member or loved one is in a nursing home, an array of concerns may arise: are they receiving the appropriate level of care, are their daily needs met, and most importantly, are their specific health issues being adequately addressed. Nursing home residents may be infirm and unable to express whether these items are sufficiently being taken care of. One of our worst fears is that a loved one in a nursing home is the subject of abuse or neglect of any kind.
In this case, Joyce Gott became a resident of the Odin Healthcare Center for two months in 2005 and again in early 2006 until her death shortly thereafter on January 31 of the same year. The administrator of Gott’s estate, Sue Carter, brought two causes of action against the nursing home: (1) a claim for violation of the Illinois Survival Act, alleging that Gott experienced personal injury such as anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, and respiratory failure, and (2) a claim under the Wrongful Death Act, for damages sustained by Gott’s heirs.
In response to these claims, defendant — nursing home moved to compel arbitration, citing two identical arbitration agreements signed at the time of Joyce Gott’s admissions to the home in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Sue Carter signed the first arbitration agreement as Gott’s, “Legal Representative.” And Gott, interestingly enough, signed the 2006 agreement herself.
Plaintiff argued that because the parties were not mutually obligated under the agreement to arbitrate, it was not binding on plaintiff. The appellate court in Illinois ruled fully in favor of plaintiff, concluding that the arbitration agreement was not enforceable, and that in any case, the wrongful death claim is not subject to arbitration. The nursing home appealed the decision.
The highest court in Illinois was asked to determine whether the arbitration agreement signed by the decedent’s representative is enforceable in a wrongful death claim. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned the first part of the appellate court’s decision, in effect requiring plaintiff to arbitrate the personal injury claims that occurred while Gott was alive, as those damages would benefit Gott’s estate. The Court, however, affirmed the decision that the wrongful death claims would not be subject to arbitration under the agreement, noting that such a claim is not considered “an asset of the decedent’s estate.” Here, Carter signed the agreement only as Gott’s legal representative, and not in any other capacity. The Court pointed out that a wrongful death action does not begin to accrue until death, and is typically brought on behalf of the family, who are considered the true parties in interest. Because the wrongful death claim seeks compensation for losses experienced by the family, Carter would not be required to arbitrate the claim.
This is an important wrongful death case in Illinois. The decision was handed down by the highest court in the state, clearing up any inconsistencies with respect to wrongful death claims and arbitration agreements that arise under analogous facts. People who have lost family members or loved ones, who are nursing home residents, and believe there was some abuse or neglect involved, are encouraged to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help explain their rights.