This blog focuses on the law in Pennsylvania and West Virginia (and other practical issues that arise) when a family member or friend is unfortunately lost due to an accidental death.
Published: September 30, 2016
An elderly loved one needs to be immediately admitted to a nursing home / long-term care facility. In a rush and happy that a bed is found, you or the elderly person frantically rush through and sign the admission paperwork, including a contract. A few days, months, or years later the elderly person is injured because of the nursing home’s negligence. An attorney is retained to represent the injured person and files a lawsuit in state or federal court. Immediately after filing the Complaint, defense counsel for the nursing home responds that you do not have the right to maintain the lawsuit in state or federal court and have a jury decide whether the nursing home was negligent and thereby caused damages. The reason: hidden in those documents that were signed upon admission to the nursing home existed a pre-dispute arbitration clause. In other words, you or the elderly person agreed to give up the right to have a jury hear the claims. Instead, the claim of negligence and damages will be heard by a lawyer or group of lawyers outside of state or federal court.
To prevent this from happening in the future, on September 28, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that it issued a final rule prohibiting the use of pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements. This rule only applies to long-term care facilities / nursing homes that receive federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid. The announcement can be accessed by clicking on the following: CMS finalizes improvements in care, safety, and consumer protections for long-term care facility residents .
The new arbitration regulation becomes effective on November 28, 2016, and applies moving forward. Thus, if the pre-dispute arbitration provision in the nursing home / long-term care facility contract was agreed to prior to November 28, 2016, the arbitration provision will not be barred by the new regulation.
The new regulation gives protection to the elderly entering into a long-term care facility / nursing home by preserving their right to a jury trial. (Interestingly, as I previously commented on in prior blog posts, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania already refuses to enforce pre-dispute arbitration agreements in wrongful death and survival actions. See Brosius v. HCR Manorcare, LLC, 2016 WL 1625790 (Pa. Super. April 25, 2016).).
Thus, if you find that you or a loved one will be entering into a long-term care facility or nursing home prior to November 28, 2016, you need to carefully read through the admission documents or hire an attorney, such as an attorney that focuses on elder law or one that handles nursing home negligence cases, to review the admission documents for a pre-dispute arbitration agreement.
Published: September 2, 2016
Earlier this week, a bicyclist, Dennis Flanagan, from McKees Rocks was killed after an SUV struck him, while on his bicycle, on West Carson Street, near the Station Square bus station.
According to an article in the Tribune Review written by Michael Walton, Flanagan began riding his bicycle daily to improve his health following a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Over the past several years, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the City of Pittsburgh have worked together to install numerous bike lanes throughout Pittsburgh. West Carson Street, which runs through the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and is a busy road, however, does not have a separate bike path.
BikePGH, which is an advocacy group that focuses on making Pittsburgh’s streets and communities safe and accessible for people to bike and walk, is calling for changes to West Carson Street, including, according to WPXI News, the addition of a bike lane.
Published: August 26, 2016
Did you know that one out of every six worker in the United States that is killed on the job is a truck driver? Probably not. Back in April 2016, I wrote about the “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2014,” which was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Census tracks work-related deaths. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor Blog in a posting titled Truck Driver Job-Related Injuries in Overdrive discussed how the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics data reveal of the danger of being a truck driver.
In the blog post, Sean Smith and Patrick Harris mentioned the foregoing statistics and noted that:
The above stats are sobering and are a good reminder as to the danger encountered on the roadways.
Published: June 24, 2016
Recently, and as previously discussed in this blog, Pennsylvania state courts have found that an arbitration provision in an admission agreement of a nursing home operator or skilled nursing facility does not waive the right to a jury trial as to a wrongful death claim or survival claim.
Differentiating from recent decisions by other federal district courts in Pennsylvania permitting the wrongful death claim and survival claim to be severed when the nursing home or skilled nursing facility contract contained an arbitration agreement, the Honorable Arthur J. Schwab of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania held in Grkman v. 890 Weatherwood Lane Operating Company, LLC, 2016 WL 3057656 (May 31, 2016), that wrongful death and survival claims against a nursing facility operator would proceed to a jury trial, despite the plaintiff signing, on behalf of his father, an admission agreement with an arbitration clause.
In Grkman, the plaintiff’s father was admitted to the defendant’s skilled nursing facility with an ulcer. Over several months, the ulcer worsened, which allegedly caused additional health complications leading to the death of the plaintiff’s father. So that his father could be admitted to the skilled nursing facility, plaintiff, as Power of Attorney, signed an Admission Agreement containing a clause requiring binding arbitration for any dispute or controversy related to plaintiff’s father’s care at the facility.
Following his father’s death, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania alleging claims for wrongful death and survival. Pursuant to the terms of the arbitration clause in the Admission Agreement, the defendant skilled nursing facility filed a motion to dismiss the claims.
In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Schwab found that by applying general agency principles, the plaintiff, as the Power of Attorney, had the right to sign the agreement. By signing the agreement on behalf of his father, plaintiff waived his deceased father’s right to a jury trial as to the survival claim. Judge Schwab also found, however, the plaintiff did not waive his right to file a wrongful death action, which claim belongs to plaintiff and not his deceased father.
Following the above findings, Judge Schwab noted the Admission Agreement contained a choice of law provision stating that the agreement shall be interpreted according to the laws of Pennsylvania. Since Pennsylvania substantive law precludes severance of the wrongful death claim and survival claim, Judge Schwab concluded that both claims must be tried before a jury.
Published: June 3, 2016
While driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike a couple of weeks ago, I twice encountered the remnants of large tires from tractor-trailers in the middle of the highway. With quick maneuvering, I was lucky to avoid the tires. The damaged tires easily could have caused an accident and were a reminder of the potential dangers drivers face on state roads and highways. This made me think about and then inquire into crash statistics for tractor-trailers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Interestingly, in April 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) released its 2015 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics booklet . The booklet provides information involving reported crashes involving cars, tractor trailers, buses, motorcycles, etc. that occurred in Pennsylvania in 2015 on the state’s approximately 120,000 miles of roads and highways. The information was collected from police crash reports from the Pennsylvania State Police and approximately 1,300 local municipal police departments.
In 2015, there were 127,127 reported traffic crashes resulting in 1,200 deaths and 80,004 injured people in Pennsylvania, which was the eleventh lowest total for crashes since 1950.
Notably, out of the 127,127 crashes in Pennsylvania, 6,916 involved heavy trucks. This was the highest total since 2011. The booklet defines heavy trucks as including tractor-trailers, single unit trucks, such as coal trucks, and motor homes. Basically, a heavy truck is one that is designed for carrying a heavy load of property on or in the vehicle. There were 130 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks, which resulted in 149 deaths.
As you can tell, despite an attempt by automotive manufacturers to improve safety, there are still a fair amount of crashes and deaths that occur on roads and highways in Pennsylvania involving heavy trucks, such as tractor-trailers.