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A senior living provider’s arbitration agreement, signed by former residents who subsequently were alleged victims of an alleged serial killer, covers the wrongful death and survival claims made by their families, a Texas appeals court has ruled.

The 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed a trial court ruling on Aug. 5, sending five wrongful death cases against Prestonwood Tradition LP, which operates the Tradition–Prestonwood senior living community in Dallas, back to arbitration. 

The cases involve the 2016 deaths of former residents Joyce Abramowitz, Leah Corken, Glenna Day, Juanita Purdy and Solomon Spring. The lawsuits accuse the company of allowing Billy Chemirmir to trespass on the property and kill eight residents.

In April, Chemirmir was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison for the death of Lu Thi Harris, a women found dead in 2018 in her Dallas home. He faces several additional capital murder counts, the majority related to the deaths of women who lived in Texas senior living communities.

The families of the five deceased Tradition–Prestonwood residents who filed the lawsuits contacted Prestonwood in 2018 regarding the settlement of claims arising from the deaths. Shortly after the parties began mediation, Prestonwood filed arbitration proceedings with the American Arbitration Association. The families filed a motion to stay the arbitration, challenging the validity, enforceability and scope of the alleged arbitration agreement to their personal injury claims.

The AAA granted the families’ request, and a trial court stayed the proceedings. Prestonwood unsuccessfully challenged the stay and took the case to the appellate court, which reversed the trial court’s findings and sent the case back to arbitration.

“We are disappointed in the Court of Appeals’ 7–6 decision, which eliminates the Texas Arbitration Act’s protections for personal injury plaintiffs,” Mary Jo Jennings, a partner with Secure Our Seniors’ Safety, a group formed by the families of Chemirmir’s alleged victims, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

“It is our understanding that the families affected by this decision are currently evaluating whether to petition the Texas Supreme Court for review,” she added. “Regardless, SOSS remains confident that any fact finder will be horrified by what happened at the Tradition–Prestonwood, where Billy Chemirmir murdered so many people.”

Chemirmir’s second capital murder trial is scheduled for Oct. 3. He faces 21 additional capital murder cases in Dallas and Collin counties and is thought to be linked to at least 24 deaths between April 2016 and March 2018.

Authorities said Chemirmir posed as a maintenance worker to gain access to senior living residences and then smothered the older adults before stealing their valuables.

Along with the lawsuits claiming that operators did not do enough to protect residents, a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers previously introduced several bills in response to the series of suspected murders thought to be tied to Chemirmir.

The family of one of Chemirmir’s suspected victims settled a lawsuit against Edgemere, another Dallas senior living community, in 2019. Preston Place Retirement Community in Plano, TX, where seven of the suspected murders occurred, also faced lawsuits.

Tradition–Prestonwood did not respond to requests for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living prior to the production deadline. In previous statements, the community stated that it was cooperating with authorities.