Most people know that the constitution ensures the right to trial by a jury of your peers. Despite this, many injury victims are finding this right eroded, as big businesses, insurance companies, and other potential defendants see juries as enemies awarding runaway verdicts to sympathetic Plaintiffs.
While these defendants can not change the constitution, they can and do try to limit an injury victim’s right to have a case heard by a jury, by taking away that right through contracts that contain arbitration clauses.
What is Arbitration
Arbitration is a process by which a neutral third party will hear evidence in your case and make a decision that is often biding. That person usually is not a sitting judge, but may be a retired judge or an attorney. That person may not be entirely neutral, usually is not elected the way a judge is, and obviously, that person is not a jury of your peers.
Discovery in arbitration is also limited. Information that you may be able to get to prove liability and damages in a normal case, may not be available in arbitration.
New Case Invalidates Arbitration Agreement as to Relatives
In many cases, victims are compelled to sign contracts that have arbitration clauses, when those victims are vulnerable, or not able to appreciate the rights they are signing away. Such is the case in Peeler vs. FutureCare Northpoint, a recent case that dealt with arbitration clauses in nursing homes.
In Peeler, an elderly and sick woman was forced to sign an arbitration clause as a condition of being admitted to the nursing home. After being admitted, the medical care given to her was substandard, causing her death. Her estate sued for malpractice. The nursing home attempted to get the case transferred to arbitration, because of the contract she had signed.
The estate argued that their deceased mother may have signed the agreement, but the relatives who were bringing the wrongful death suit did not. Thus, they could not be bound by it.
Unfortunately for them, there is some authority that someone who signs a release for wrongful death claims, can bind their relatives should they ever sue for that person’s wrongful death. Thus, the nursing home argued, a relative signing an arbitration agreement should also bind the family suing for wrongful death to arbitration.
Appellate Court Disagrees with Nursing Home
But the court disagreed with the nursing home, finding that the arbitration issue had nothing to do with the claim itself—only where and in what forum that claim would be heard. Thus, even though the family stands in the shoes of the deceased when bringing a wrongful death claim, that did not apply to contractual provisions like arbitration clauses that do not have to do with the actual claim itself, or damages that can be awarded under the claim.
The case is a victory for Maryland consumers and victims, although arbitration clauses are still generally enforceable, and can and do take away rights to trials by juries all the time.
If you have been injured, make sure your right to have your case heard by a jury is preserved, so you receive full reparation for your injuries. Contact the injury and accident attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss the handling of your case.