It was right there in black and white. In contracts signed prior to admission, nursing home residents or their guardians agreed that any disputes arising from claims of negligence against nursing home staff would be subject to arbitration.
Nevertheless, three plaintiffs, bound by such contracts, filed suit against three West Virginia nursing homes, charging negligence in the deaths of three residents.
Clayton Brown sued Genesis Healthcare Corp., Sharon Marchio sued Clarksburg Nursing & Rehabilitation, and Jeffrey Taylor sued Marmet Health Care Center.
Aware of the arbitration clauses that seem to preempt the suits, all three plaintiffs argued that such clauses are null and void under, Section 15(c) of West Virginia's Nursing Home Act.
The defendant nursing homes countered that state law is preempted by Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). That should have been the end of it.
Nevertheless, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, abrogating the terms of contracts voluntarily signed.
Fortunately for the nursing homes -– and for parties to contracts of any kind -– the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, affirming that the FAA does indeed supersede state law and that the plaintiffs are bound by the terms of their contracts.
Calling our state court's interpretation "both incorrect and inconsistent," the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the FAA offers no exception for personal injury or wrongful death claims.
"As this Court reaffirmed last term, 'when state law prohibits outright the arbitration of a particular type of claim, the analysis is straightforward: The conflicting rule is displaced by the FAA.' That rule resolves these cases," the High Court explained in a concise and compelling five-page opinion.
Our state justices had issued a tortuous 99-page justification for their errant decision. Making a case against the obvious benefits of arbitration and contract enforcement -– even a flimsy one –- is not and will not ever be easy.