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Medical Malpractice Law: Enforceability of an Arbitration Clause

An arbitration clause is essentially a written provision within a contract that declares that any disputes between the parties involved will be settled through arbitration instead of through the courts. Most arbitration clauses are included within commercial and business contracts, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on contracts between medical health care providers and patients.

Arbitration is entered on a voluntary basis: the parties entering into the contract agree that when a disagreement arises, they will submit the dispute to a neutral arbitrator (usually an independent hearing officer selected by the parties or by a method agreed upon by the parties). For the most part, the decision reached by the arbitrator is considered binding and final. Certain health care providers will have arbitration clauses, as most will prefer to have medical negligence claims decided by neutral arbitrators as opposed to a jury or judge. For many, the less formal aspect of arbitration can be less costly than taking the case to court; and this outcome will typically result in awards that are smaller than those provided by a jury. 

Is an Arbitration Clause Enforceable When It Comes to Medical Negligence?

Courts across the country have a history of enforcing many types of agreements to arbitrate. When it comes to medical malpractice, some courts are reluctant to enforce agreements.  People should understand that they may be giving up essential legal rights. Additionally, some courts have found that patients have no other option with regard to their need for medical attention, and, therefore, they are forced into the “agreement” unwillingly. Ultimately, courts should carefully scrutinize such clauses when it comes to medical services.

Many states have taken up the challenge to remedy the situation by attempting to balance competing interests, passing laws that provide a “safety net” to individuals asked to sign arbitration agreements for medical services.  These statutory protections can come in varying forms and can include distinctive requirements. For instance, laws can demand that the arbitration clause appear in large or bold lettering to focus a patient’s attention and understanding that the patient will be relinquishing their right to file a lawsuit and/or have the case decided by a court or jury. Other regulations can demand a patient be provided with a statement that advises the patient that entering into contract is voluntary and the receipt of treatment is not based on his or her signing the agreement.

Certain states will require that contracts include provisions that allow patients the opportunity to rescind the clause to arbitrate within a certain amount of time.

Obtain the Legal Support of a Skilled Medical Malpractice Attorney

Many arbitration clauses are enforceable, despite the appearance of overreaching or unfairness. It is important to understand the terms of the clause and the ramifications of using the arbitration process in avoiding injustice.

Medical malpractice claims in the State of California are strictly time sensitive. If you or someone you know has been harmed as a result of medical negligence, seek the legal expertise of a proficient attorney who can help you identify your legal options, whether or not the claim is to be decided by arbitration or by a judge or jury.

The attorneys at Heiting & Irwin are dedicated to fighting for the rights of patients who have suffered injuries as a result of negligent medical care providers. The firm has extensive experience in handling medical malpractice claims in the State of California.

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