Sierra Tucson v. Bergin – 5/11/2016

May 26, 2016

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that a forum selection clause signed by a decedent does not bind the decedent’s statutory beneficiaries in a wrongful death action.

A patient who had signed a contract with a hospital that included a venue selection clause died while in the care of that hospital.  His estate and his statutory beneficiaries filed a wrongful death action against the hospital.  The hospital applied for a change of venue, but the trial court denied it on the ground that a forum selection clause is not binding upon surviving beneficiaries who bring a wrongful death action.  The hospital sought Special Action relief in the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction but denied relief.  Reasoning that only parties to a contract are subject to the terms of the contract and that a claim for wrongful death belongs to a decedent’s statutory beneficiaries and not the decedent himself, the Court of Appeals concluded that the forum selection clause did not bind the statutory beneficiaries.  The Court of Appeals did not address the question of whether the venue selection clause was enforceable against the decedent’s estate because the hospital had not raised it in the trial court.   

Judge Howard delivered the unanimous opinion, in which Judges Espinosa and Staring concurred.