Beware the Arbitration Clause

Have you ever applied for a credit card? As part of the process, you probably had to sign a few pages of legalese in small type.

Same thing for a cell phone and many other consumer products. These days, we often sign these documents electronically, with a click of a mouse or a few taps on a keyboard. Most of us are looking to finish this process quickly and are not paying attention to what we are signing.

Inclusion of arbitration clauses

Often, these agreements or contracts have arbitration clauses in them. Sometimes they are titled “Agreement to Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”)” or “Agreement to Arbitrate.” What they should really be called is “Waiver of Right to Trial by Jury.” These agreements will bind you to give up your right to a trial by jury if any dispute were to arise between you and the other party.

What is arbitration?

Arbitrations are proceedings where disputes are decided without a jury. Usually, lawyers or retired judges act as an arbitrator to decide the case, or there may be several arbitrators acting as a panel to decide the case.

While arbitration may be an acceptable way to resolve your case, there is no way of knowing that at the very beginning of a contractual relationship before you even have a case.

In other words, you might want to agree to arbitration later when you know your claim could benefit from arbitration. However, it doesn’t really make sense to bind yourself to arbitration before you even have a dispute.

Increased use of arbitration clauses

More and more, we are seeing arbitration clauses appear in healthcare settings. These clauses can be included in the paperwork that you are handed when you first sign in to the doctor’s office, or when you arrive at the hospital for emergency care.

Many people unknowingly sign these documents, because they want to see a doctor to have an illness or condition treated and are not really paying attention to all the paperwork they have to sign to see the doctor.

However, if the care you receive at the hospital or doctor’s office was negligent, you may have a potential medical malpractice claim. If you signed an arbitration agreement, when you file your medical malpractice lawsuit, the doctor or hospital will likely file a motion to dismiss your lawsuit and compel arbitration.

In other words, they will try to move your case from a court where you can eventually have a trial by jury, to a proceeding where your case will be decided by an arbitrator or arbitration panel.

So, when you go to your next doctor’s appointment or sign admission documents at a hospital, look at that small type you are reading. Be aware of the presence of these clauses and what they could mean to you in signing away your 7th Amendment right to a trial by jury.

The Pérez Law Firm: Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys

If you have a potential medical malpractice case, contact us and we can obtain your medical records and review them to see if you signed an arbitration clause and advise you as to whether you will be bound by it.