When an Apple a Day Doesn’t Work, Make Sure you Read the Fine Print!

There is a growing trend in the medical field that strips a patient’s right to a jury trial in the event of medical malpractice, and many people may not understand the ramifications of signing such a legally binding contract.

Arbitration agreements have unfortunately become the norm in many healthcare offices across the U.S. Hidden in the fine print of many contracts at doctors’ offices, surgery centers, dentists’ offices, emergency rooms, and nursing home facilities is a binding arbitration clause that takes away a patient’s right to a jury trial.

Imagine that you need a simple surgery, but complications arise during your surgery due to the negligence of the doctor, nurse, or other ancillary staff member. Now, because of the doctor’s or medical staff’s negligence, you are left with a more complicated health issue that eventually requires multiple surgeries or procedures, leaves you disabled, or drastically affects your quality of life.

Naturally, you would likely consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to understand your legal options. Now, imagine that your attorney launches an investigation and proves the complications you suffered were due to the medical staff’s negligence, but, unfortunately, your attorney also finds that you signed a contract during the admissions process that had a hidden arbitration agreement. Because you signed the agreement, your only option is to privately resolve the issue with an arbitrator that was hired by the facility that conducted your initial surgery.

Scenarios like the above situation are becoming more and more prevalent. It ties the hands of the patient and gives hospitals and other healthcare facilities and their staff a way out of a jury trial. Arbitration agreements are a tool that healthcare providers and facilities use to minimize the patient’s recovery for negligent care that has harmed him or her.

What is Arbitration?

Arbitration is an alternative way to resolve disputes that arise. Rather than taking a doctor, nurse, staff member or the healthcare facility to court to be presented in front of a jury, a third-party arbitrator (usually hired by the facility in question), is used, and you present the argument to them. They hear the case and then can issue a binding decision. Historically, juries are more likely to render a fair decision and hold a healthcare provider accountable as opposed to an arbitration panel.

More and more healthcare facilities are giving patients an ultimatum: Sign an arbitration agreement, which is often hidden in the fine print of larger admission paperwork – or forgo treatment all together.

While a skilled medical malpractice attorney may be able to prove negligence and resolve a case with an arbitrator, the bottom line is arbitration clauses at hospitals and other medical facilities deprive victims of their day in court, and the opportunity to have a jury hold the facility and staff fully accountable. If you are asked to sign an arbitration agreement, do not do it. If you are unsure about whether your paperwork includes an arbitration agreement, a medical malpractice attorney can review the documents and give you sound legal advice.

Consider This

The process of an arbitration is much quicker and is private. This may ultimately lead to less compensation for victims and more importantly – because it is private – no negative publicity for the facility or its staff. Without a lawsuit, the public may never know how often a hospital, doctors’ office, or other medical facility has been negligent in rendering care because unlike a lawsuit, it is not a matter of public record. When the public is left blind to this knowledge, the lack of information makes it more difficult for consumers to choose which facility or doctor they should hire.

Always Read the Fine Print

If you are asked to sign or re-sign any paperwork at your doctor’s office, a hospital, a dentist’s office, an emergency room, a long-term care facility, or any other healthcare facility, make sure you read the paperwork before you sign anything. You may very well be signing a hidden arbitration clause that will strip you of your constitutional right to a trial by jury. 

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