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Personal Injury · Wrongful Death · Medical Malpractice

Arbitration Clauses, Settlements, and Personal Injury Claims

When most people think about going after a person or business that harmed them, they envision a dramatic courtroom scene where the key witness admits responsibility or reveals a bombshell that proves the defendant’s guilt. The reality, though, is most personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, are settled through negotiation or an alternative dispute resolution process, like arbitration, long before a trial would even emerge on the horizon. Taking a personal injury or medical malpractice case to trial typically results in the payment of significantly higher damages awards, so why would anyone consider an alternative way to end the dispute? An overview of issues that could convince parties choose to forego trial, as well as the legal requirements that force plaintiffs to use alternate resolution forums, will be discussed below.

Choosing Another Way

While going to trial offers an injured party the satisfaction of confronting someone who wronged them and the possibility of receiving more money in compensation, there are important downsides to consider that often impact how cases are handled. First, trials are expensive, and take a long time to prepare and schedule. Court dockets around the country are notoriously overburdened, which means it could be years before a case ever comes to trial. Commonly, the injured party wants resolution much sooner for both financial and emotional reasons, and chooses to try negotiation, mediation, or arbitration as a faster alternative. Second, the formalities and limitation of the presentation of evidence that all American courts follow further serve to slow down the process even after trial begins. Finally, the contents of a trial, and all the documents filed with court related to it, are matters of public record that anyone can see, especially now that a lot of items are available online. Certainly an injured party wants the defendant held liable, but may not want to disclose personal, maybe embarrassing, information in the process. Settlement, mediation, and arbitration avoid that situation because they are private and all communications are confidential.

Contract Clauses and State Law

Sometimes, however, there is no choice, and plaintiffs are forced to resolve legal disputes in arbitration due to clauses in contracts or state law. Many contracts and businesses require their customers to sign contain mandatory binding arbitration clauses that basically say that any legal dispute must be handled in arbitration, instead of in front of a judge. These provisions have repeatedly been upheld when challenged, so it is very unlikely one will be able to avoid this outcome. Arbitration involves both sides selecting an impartial third party to decide their dispute. Then, both sides attend hearings and present evidence to support their respective cases. The arbitrator then issues a decision that each party must follow.

In addition to contract clauses, state law requires all parties in medical malpractice cases to attend mediation and settlement negotiations before trial is permitted to begin. While the parties are free to move onto trial if no agreement is possible, this condition does encourage parties to settle and not gamble on a decision from an unpredictable jury. Parties in medical malpractice cases are also able to enter into voluntary binding arbitration. As an example, an arbitration panel recently awarded a family $3.73 million in a medical malpractice claim against a hospital in Plantation. A pregnant woman died, though the baby was saved, after hospital personnel failed to administer oxygen for eight hours despite the fact the woman came in due to shortness of breath. This award shows that it is possible for injured parties to receive substantial compensation from this dispute resolution forum, though it is bound to be less than a jury would give.

Ask for Help

If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, talk to a personal injury lawyer about your options for recovering for the injuries. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber Del Prado has years of experience in personal injury cases and can advise you on the best way to hold the other party accountable. Call to schedule a free consultation.

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