Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties submit their claims and defenses to a neutral third person (arbitrator) whose decision is typically binding. A wide variety of contracts often include an “arbitration clause” requiring the parties to arbitrate claims either in place of or before filing a lawsuit. In Laizure v. Avante at Leesburg, Florida’s Supreme Court explains that a woman suing on behalf of her dead father is bound by an arbitration clause in a contract he signed prior to passing.
Mr. Stewart died several days after being admitted to nursing home Avante at Leesburg for rehabilitation following surgery. His daughter, Ms. Laizure, sued Avante for wrongful death and violation of the Florida Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Act. The state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court’s ruling that Laizure was required to submit the claims to arbitration rather than filing suit because her father had signed an agreement to arbitrate all claims against the nursing home upon his admission to the facility.
Specifically, the clause stated that Stewart agreed to arbitrate any claims against Avante arising from his stay at the facility and exceeding $10,000 in value. It also stated that it applied to representatives, employees, heirs and other individuals bringing claims on Stewart’s behalf.
On further appeal, the state Supreme Court held that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable against Laizure even though she didn’t sign it. “[T]here are three elements for courts to consider in ruling on a motion to compel arbitration of a given dispute: (1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists; (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) whether the right to arbitration was waived,” the court explained, citing its 1999 decision in Seifert v. U.S. Home Corporation. Here, the arbitration agreement applied to Laizure and the issues raised in her claims against Avante, according to the court.
The court noted that there was a “significant relationship” between Laizure’s claim and the subject of the contract in which the arbitration clause was included: her father’s stay at Avante. Finding that the clause’s terms expressly included tort claims such as negligence and malpractice, the court said that the parties clearly intended to include wrongful death claims within the scope of their agreement.
The court rejected Laizure’s argument that a wrongful death claim is an independent cause of action belonging to a dead persons’ survivors. “While the Wrongful Death Act creates independent claims for the survivors, these claims are also derivative in the sense that they are dependent upon a wrong committed upon another person,” the court held. A claimant cannot successfully bring a wrongful death claim under the Act, according to the court, unless the decedent could have also successfully sued had he not died.
As a result, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision requiring Laizure to arbitrate her claims. It is important to note that that court did not weigh in on whether or not these claims will ultimately be successfully, but instead limited its holding to the applicability of the arbitration clause.
The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have vast experience bringing negligence claims on behalf of injured clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Coral Springs and Pompano Beach. If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, call our Ft. Lauderdale office for a free consultation.
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