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Must You Arbitrate a Wrongful Death Case?

Many employment contracts now include arbitration provisions. Arbitration is an alternative to litigation, where the parties present evidence to one or more arbitrators, who act as judges. Arbitration is private and sometimes faster than going through court, which is why many employers like to include these agreements in employment contracts.

If an employee signs, then the agreement is usually binding. Some of our clients are shocked to find out that these agreements can apply even to a wrongful death action.

What Florida Law Says

Our state encourages parties to arbitrate disputes, probably because it helps reduce the congestion of the court system. The federal government also agrees. Consequently, both Florida and the federal government have multiple laws on the books that can apply.

For example, Fla. Stat. § 682.02 states that “two or more parties” can agree to arbitrate any controversy that exists at the time they sign the arbitration agreement. They can also agree in advance to arbitrate disputes that might arise later, after the contract was formed.

We have seen employers, nursing homes, and recreational facilities include arbitration agreements in their contracts. You might even have agreed to arbitrate a dispute when you bought a ticket to a theme park. If the agreement is valid, then it is binding.

Fla. Stat. § 682.03 gives the parties the power to ask a court to compel arbitration. This is a powerful tool either party can request when the other tries to avoid arbitration.

Wrongful Death Cases & Arbitration

An important question arises whether arbitration agreements are valid in wrongful death suits, because the person who signed it has died. The action is being brought by the deceased person’s estate, but the estate did not agree to arbitration. Some people argue that this means the agreement should not be enforced.

However, Florida courts take a different view. In 2013, the state’s Supreme Court held that an arbitration agreement was binding in a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home. Recently, a federal court in Florida required arbitration when a woman’s son died due to meningitis while on a cruise ship. She claimed that the ship’s medical personnel did not accurately diagnose her son’s condition, leading to his death.

Of course, we must review the agreement first, to determine whether a wrongful death lawsuit falls in the scope of the agreement. Everything depends on the wording, since an agreement is a contract, after all.

Let Us Help

If you have a wrongful death case, contact Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP today. We can discuss whether you can file suit and where. Call us at 305-371-2692 to schedule a free consultation with a Miami wrongful death attorney.