Federal Arbitration Act May Preclude Jury Trial of Oklahoma Nursing Home Disputes


Arbitration Agreements for Resolving Nursing Home Disputes

Many families are arranging for and managing the control of residential care for aging family members in nursing homes or similar facilities in Oklahoma.  One important issue is whether to sign or to have your family member sign an arbitration agreement for dispute resolution, if one is included in the pre-admission paperwork.


Arbitration vs. Litigation to Resolve Disputes

There are pros and cons to arbitration v. litigation in our courts including trial by presentation of evidence to an Oklahoma jury.   Some people contend that arbitration is a faster and less costly way to resolve disputes.   Others claim that the arbitration process favors the institutional defendant and that claimants are treated more fairly by their peers in a jury trial. There is merit to each side.


Waivers of Jury Trials Not Enforceable by State Law

The Oklahoma legislature had concluded that a provision in any admission agreement that waived the right to a jury trial was bad public policy. Such a waiver was therefore forbidden by statute in Oklahoma.  Even if an Oklahoma nursing home resident had signed an arbitration agreement which included a waiver of jury trial clause, that waiver was not enforceable.  Based on that statute, a claim that nursing home negligence had caused personal injury or even death could always be presented at trial to an Oklahoma jury.


Federal Law Reversed State Law

That was true until recently when Oklahoma law was found to have been pre-empted by federal law. An Oklahoma court decided (as have many courts) that nursing home residency contracts with arbitration clauses were transactions involving interstate commerce to which the Federal Arbitration Act applied. As such, a U.S. Supreme Court’s decision also applied so that federal law preempted the contrary rule of any state, like Oklahoma, that would have prohibited compulsory arbitration instead of a jury trial.   Duty-bound to apply the supreme law of the land, the Oklahoma appellate court decided that the Oklahoma statute was pre-empted. It therefore reversed the trial court’s decision not to compel arbitration. Instead, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions that an arbitration must be held and not a jury trial.


Preserving Your Right To Jury Trial

This development in Oklahoma law presents a substantial and maybe insurmountable challenge to anyone seeking to preserve the option of a jury trial in Oklahoma for nursing home negligence.  If you are faced with a nursing home admission decision, and if you want to try to preserve the right to resolve any dispute concerning care for your loved one by a jury trial, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before signing any documents.


Cases: Weaver v. John Doe et al, 2016 OK CIV APP 30, 371 P.3d 1170 (Okla. Ct of Civ. App. 2016); Marmet  Health Care Center, Inc. v. Brown, ___U.S.____, 132  S.Ct. 1201, 182 L.Ed. 2d 42 (2012).


The information in this article is not legal advice, and you should not take any action based on information you find in this article without first consulting qualified legal counsel concerning the facts and circumstances of your situation. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading this article.