Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California wrongful death case requiring the court to determine the validity of an arbitration agreement. Specifically, the court had to decide whether the arbitration agreement could be enforced against the deceased’s son, when he signed the agreement on behalf of his father.
California Arbitration Agreements
An arbitration agreement is a contract between parties that preemptively agrees to settle any future claims that may arise between the parties through arbitration, rather than through the court system. The benefits to arbitration mainly inure to the company creating the contract, since that is the party that has the opportunity to choose the arbitration forum. In addition, arbitration is widely considered to be less expensive and more expedient than the traditional court system. Thus, it can be seen why large companies hope to arbitrate claims against them.
However, arbitration is not normally in the interest of an accident victim, who is less familiar with the forum and may be less concerned about the cost of litigation. Additionally, arbitration presents strict, non-uniform procedural rules that, if not followed, may result in the waiver of a valid claim.
The Facts of the Case and the Court’s Decision
The plaintiff in the case was a man whose father died while in the care of the defendant medical care facility. Prior to his father’s admission, the plaintiff signed the pre-admission contract on his father’s behalf, writing “son” underneath his father’s name. Contained in the contract was an agreement to arbitrate any future claims.
The plaintiff filed a California wrongful death case against the care facility, which raised the agreement to arbitrate as a defense. The court was then tasked with determining if the arbitration agreement could be enforced against the plaintiff, who signed the contract on behalf of his deceased father.
The court determined that the agreement to arbitrate was not enforceable against the plaintiff. The court explained that in California, wrongful death cases are an independent claim and are not derivative of the claim that the deceased would have had against the defendant. Thus, by signing the agreement on behalf of his father – rather than on his own behalf – the son only committed his father to arbitration but did not himself agree to arbitrate any claim of his own.
The above case is important for California personal injury victims because arbitration agreements are common in many areas of personal injury law. For example, arbitration agreements are common in many California medical malpractice cases, as well as in some premises liability cases.
Have You Been Injured in a California Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of California accident, and you have signed an agreement to arbitrate, do not assume that you must arbitrate your claim. There are many defenses to arbitration, and some arbitration agreements are so unfair that courts will refuse to enforce them. The dedicated California wrongful death attorneys at Sharifi Firm have extensive experience handling a wide range of California injury claims, and we provide accident victims with a free consultation to discuss their case. Call 866-422-7222 to schedule your free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
How Do Courts Apportion Liability in California Personal Injury Cases Involving Multiple At-Fault Parties?, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 5, 2018
California Court Awards Additional Costs After Party Rejects Settlement and Loses at Trial, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2018