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Binding Arbitration Agreements Forced Upon Medical Patients

The Palm Beach Post discussed a trend that is distressing to our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers-the increased use of arbitration agreements in the medical context.

What are arbitration agreements?
Arbitration agreements are essentially clauses in contracts that determine ahead of time how certain disputes must be settled. In general, these agreements force those seeking out certain good or services-like medical care-to use the arbitration process to resolve any future dispute instead of the regular civil justice system. While it sounds innocuous enough on its face, our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys know that these agreements always work against the regular community members and in favor of the doctor or hospital.

The Problem
The article on the topic explains how these agreements affect real patients. A man went to his doctor to receive steroid injections to ease aching shoulder pains. However, what he didn’t know was that one of the needles used to provide the injection was not clean. Flesh-eating bacteria were on the needle, and it entered his body when he received the injection. Before all was said and done the man needed six surgeries and a month in the hospital before his was stabilized. He did not survive unscathed, however. The man permanently lost use of one of his arms.

But it gets even worse. The doctor in this case-an orthopedic surgeon-did not call the man right away as soon as he learned that the needles were infected with the bacteria. Instead, the doctor waited, allowing the bacteria to course through the unsuspecting patient’s body.

In the aftermath of the ordeal the man in this case logically filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later that the man realized the problem-he had signed an arbitration agreement as part of his admittance into the medical clinic.

Shielding Doctors from Liability
As part of a cost-cutting measure, the bone and joint surgery clinic where the man received treatment recently changed its rules and required patients to give up their legal rights in the event of problematic treatment. As a result, any lawsuit must be resolved via arbitration. The arbitration process is slanted toward the medical defendant and comes with severe limits on the damages that patients can recover. It goes without saying that those injured by medical malpractice are much more likely to have their rights protected in the civil justice system as opposed to an arbitration process.

Even Worse
Amazingly, some medical professionals are trying to get patients to unsuspectingly agree to something even worse-promising not to sue at all no matter how bad the treatment. These “no sue” clauses are incredible intrusive, violating all context of basic fairness issues. Many patients have no idea that they are signing away their most fundamental rights.

One state court judge noted that he felt that he could not rule the clauses invalid because the state (in this case, Florida) did not expressly prohibit these “no sue” clauses. Other states have reached different conclusions on this issue. There are very strong reasons that these sorts of policies violate basic public policy principles, and so hopefully more legal experts weigh in on the validity (or invalidity) of these intrusive, dangerous, and downright unfair clauses snuck into lengthy, complicated agreements.

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