Do you make this mistake when you sign paperwork?
When you visit a doctor or check into a hospital or nursing home, you are probably inundated with a towering pile of paperwork. The clerk or receptionist will hand you a stack, briefly explain the meaning behind each one in a flat monotone, and then turn you loose to read them and sign. Unfortunately, many of these forms are so loaded with “legalese,” the language only a lawyer could understand, that many people usually just sign the forms and move on without reading them. This can actually be a very grave mistake. The next time you are signing this paperwork, check through the fine print for a phrase like “neutral arbitrator.” This phrase can have a significant impact on your healthcare and your rights (http://www.theatlantic.com/).
That one phrase, “neutral arbitrator,” can change what happens if a medical incident occurs and you try to sue for damages. If you sign this type of document, then you are signing away your rights to take the doctor, hospital, or nursing home, to court in the event that you have a legal claim. Instead, you must agree to arbitration with a “neutral” third-party, usually a retired judge or lawyer who have been trained to arbitrate cases. The New York Times has done a recent investigation, however, that this whole process may not be as neutral as it claims to be (http://www.nytimes.com/). This report has actually gone so far as to uncover the fact that rules of evidence, which are at the heart of medical malpractice lawsuits, are essentially null and void during third-party arbitration.
One of the big areas that this affects is with nursing home admissions. When a person tries to sign-up for a nursing home, or do so on behalf of an elderly parent, they must sign an arbitration agreement. Often, this is presented as a requirement to be admitted to the nursing home. Essentially, if you don’t sign, then you don’t get in. Not only is this problematic, but it also keeps evidence of nursing home abuse secret. If you agree to arbitration, then the findings of that hearing are closed and a “gag rule” is usually imposed on the parties. So other people (including the authorities) will never find out about what has gone on in the nursing home.
Another issue with arbitration is that it is usually incredibly costly. Yes, medical malpractice suits cost a lot as well, but they usually give the person a chance to win back legal fees in the judgment. With arbitration, not only will you have to pay for your legal counsel, but you also often have to pay for the arbitrator as well. Because of these fees, many who go through arbitration get very little in compensation.
Currently, a group of political leaders have called for a change in arbitration agreements, asking that they be banned altogether, especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients. However, for the time being, the hospital and nursing lobbies have fought such regulation. For the time being, it is suggested that you read the fine print and consider your options if your doctor or hospital is pushing for an arbitration clause.
If you are being pressured into signing a third-party arbitration agreement as a condition for medical treatment or nursing home admittance, it may be a good idea to have a lawyer look over the contract before you sign it. If you need such assistance, the attorneys with Wolf & Pravato will be happy to look over the information, give you a legal opinion before you sign, and appraise you of your rights in the matter.