Supreme Court: Arbitration law applies in W.Va.

Feb. 21, 2012 at 12:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court spanked West Virginia's highest court Tuesday, saying arbitration law applies even when suing nursing homes for alleged wrongful death.

The unanimous opinion was unsigned.

The case involves three negligence suits against nursing homes in West Virginia brought by a family member of a patient who died. The suits all alleged negligence caused injuries or harm resulting in death.

But all three relatives had signed an arbitration agreement to settle disputes when their relatives entered the nursing homes. The contracts were covered by the Federal Arbitration Act.

Though a state court dismissed the suits, West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals held that "as a matter of public policy under West Virginia law, an arbitration clause in a nursing home admission agreement adopted prior to an occurrence of negligence that results in a personal injury or wrongful death, shall not be enforced to compel arbitration of a dispute concerning the negligence."

"The state court found unpersuasive this [U.S. Supreme] Court's interpretation of the FAA, calling it 'tendentious' ... and 'created from whole cloth,'" the U.S. Supreme Court opinion said. "It later concluded that 'Congress did not intend for the FAA to be, in any way, applicable to personal injury or wrongful death suits that only collaterally derive from a written agreement that evidences a transaction affecting interstate commerce, particularly where the agreement involves a service that is a practical necessity for members of the public.' ... The court thus concluded that the FAA does not pre-empt the state public policy against pre-dispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims of personal injury or wrongful death against nursing homes."

In throwing out the ruling of the state high court, the U.S. Supreme Court said, "The West Virginia court's interpretation of the FAA was both incorrect and inconsistent with clear instruction in the precedents of this [U.S. Supreme] Court."

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