In Which We Inaugurate A New Side Bar Category: Section 1295 (Medical Malpractice)
“The Patient.” Frederic Dorr Steele, artist. 1901. Library of Congress.
The plaintiff in the next case, Norma Daniels, is alive. Her mother, Margaret Barcenas, is dead. Ms. Daniels sued a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE), its owners and its operators, for elder abuse and related claims (survivor claims), as well as for wrongful death. The trial court denied defendants’ petition to compel arbitration on the grounds(i) that Daniels was a third party to the arbitration agreement, and also, (ii) that there was a possibility of conflicting rulings if the survivor claims were arbitrated, and the wrongful death claim was not arbitrated. Daniels v. Sunrise Senior Living, Inc., E054472 (4th Dist. Div. 2 January 4, 2013) (King, J., author) (certified for publication).
The Court of Appeal affirmed, despite the fact that the agreement with the RCFE contained a broad arbitration clause, covering all claims relating to the mother’s care received at the RCFE, the clause was binding on the mother’s heirs, and Daniels had signed the agreement. Notwithstanding those bumps in the road, the road to affirmance was relatively direct.
First, Daniels did not sign in her personal capacity, but as her mother’s attorney in fact, allowing her to be treated as a third party to the agreement.
Second, while the survivor claims were brought in Daniel’s capacity as an heir, the wrongful death claim was brought in her personal capacity. “Unlike some jurisdictions wherein wrongful death actions are derivative, Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 ‘creates a new cause of action in favor of the heirs as beneficiaries, based upon their own independent pecuniary injury suffered by loss of a relative, and distinct from any the deceased might have maintained had he survived. . . . ‘” Horwich v. Superior Court, 21 Cal.4th 272, 283 (1999). In her personal capacity, Daniel retained her third party status.
Third, the case is distinguishable from Ruiz v. Podolsky, 50 Cal.4th 838 (2010) and Herbert v. Superior Court, 169 Cal.App.3d 718 (1985), cases holding nonsignatories to an arbitration agreement must arbitrate wrongful death claims against a health care provider when the decedent agreed to arbitrate medical malpractice claims pursuant to Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 1295. Section 1295 governs agreements to arbitrate professional negligence or medical malpractice claims in medical services contracts. Section 1295, however, includes notice safeguards to ensure a person makes an informed choice about arbitration – none of which were present here. The Court explains that “this is the critical distinction between Herbert and Ruiz and the present case.”” Thus, a policy argument based on an analogy to cases involving 1295, which has its own built-in safeguards, held no attraction here. (Note: the Court points out there is no “statutory analog to section 1295, applicable to RCFE’s nonhealth care providers or to claims other than professional negligence . . . “. Perhaps a lobbyist will now step forward to try and plug the gap.)
Fourth, Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. 1281.2(c) allows a court to refuse to compel arbitration if there is a danger of inconsistent rulings on common questions of law or fact. Here, the possibility that survivor claims could be ordered to arbitration, whereas Daniels’s wrongful death claim could not be, presented “a possibility of inconsistent rulings on the claims given that the claims are based on the allegation that Barcenas received inadequate care at Sunrise. . . . Because the trial court’s discretionary ruling does not exceed the bounds of reason, we will not disturb it.”
This case involves no analysis of federal case law or of the Federal Arbitration Act. Perhaps federal law was simply irrelevant, given the Court’s conclusion that Daniels was not a party to an arbitration agreement.
Does anyone believe that the gross facts alleged in this case – pressure sores on heels and ankles, followed by “septic shock, pneumonia, dehydration, and a staph infection”, followed by death of the plaintiff’s 93 year old mother, had any impact on the judges’ decision allowing the plaintiff her day in court?