Arbitrator's Rejection of Expert Insufficient to Vacate Arbitration Award

Arbitrator's Rejection of Expert Insufficient to Vacate Arbitration AwardThe Supreme Court of Alabama finds that an arbitrator’s refusal to rely on a nursing expert in a wrongful death case was not grounds to vacate the arbitration award because it did not constitute bias or corruption. In Taylor v. Methodist Home for the Aging (Ala. SC-2022-0681, May 12, 2023).

Mr. Willie M. Latham died following a fall in a nursing home operated by Methodist Home for the Aging. The personal representative for Mr. Latham’s estate, Ms. Angela Taylor, brought a wrongful death action under the Alabama Medical Liability Act of 1987. The nursing home moved to compel arbitration per an arbitration agreement Mr. Latham signed.

In arbitration, the nursing home moved for summary judgment supported with evidentiary submissions. Ms. Taylor filed a motion in opposition with supporting evidence.

The arbitrator issued a final award in favor of the nursing home. The order found that the Alabama Medical Liability Act requires substantial evidence in the form of expert testimony to show that the nursing home breached the standard of care and that the breach was the proximate cause of injury or death. The expert testimony must come from a similarly situated health care provider. According to the order, Ms. Taylor’s nursing expert witness was not similarly situated and did not provide enough specificity to show a practically applicable standard, and her allegations were conjecture and lacked value.

The circuit court entered the order as final judgment. Ms. Taylor had appealed the order and filed a motion to set it aside, which became effective following the final judgment and failed. She then appealed to this court.

The estate representative asserted that the circuit court erred when it denied her motion to vacate the arbitration award. According to Ms. Taylor, the expert testimony from a nursing-home nurse supported the facility’s breach of care.

The Federal Arbitration Act allows the court to vacate an arbitration award in limited circumstances when there is evident partiality or corruption by the arbitrators. While Ms. Taylor claimed partiality as the reason for vacating the arbitration award, she failed to present evidence of bias. Her argument focused on the sufficiency of the evidence and whether the arbitrator appropriately concluded that her expert was unqualified. The arbitrator’s refusal to accept her proposed expert does not constitute evidence of partiality.

Since the estate representative failed to meet the limited grounds for vacating an arbitration award, the Supreme Court of Alabama affirms the denial of the motion to vacate the arbitration award.

Read the full opinion.