Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Warning: Consult Before Signing Binding Arbitration Agreements!

My client was involved in a car accident months ago and unfortunately sustained permanent injury on his spine. Because of this, he decided to file a lawsuit to recover damages from the negligent driver. To prove his claim he was required to undergo physical examination. He asked around and found a respected doctor in his community but when he appeared for appointment several weeks later, he was overwhelmed by the documents he needed to fill out and sign.
He admits he couldn’t understand some of the legal statements so without first consulting me as his lawyer just like most clients he recklessly signed all of the papers, including a binding arbitration agreement. What was it; he didn’t know until he was somehow forced to go through the whole mediation process.
By common knowledge, arbitration is often resorted to, to avoid the long and inconvenient process of a jury trial. Through mediation, both parties come into an agreement favorable to both instead of a full blown trial with a winner and loser. However, my client has experienced it first hand and he can attest that there is secret business brewing behind this seemingly simple binding arbitration agreement.
The lawyer representing the defendant negligent driver told me he would pay $80,000 to settle the case if his client consents. Unfortunately, the driver refused so the case proceeded to binding arbitration. The defendant surprisingly agreed that the injury was caused by his negligence! But the “neutral” arbitrator only agreed to an award of $70,000 or else he was going to vote against my client!
Generally, arbitrators award lesser damages than a jury would because the former expects repeat business with its main source of income: insurance companies.
It was a smart ass move on the part of the “neutral” because he was fair in both returning my client’s award and bringing the amount lesser than the defense lawyer was willing to pay. With this, no doubt the insurance carrier would be pleased with the result. They would surely be anxious to utilize the arbitrator’s services in the future.
My client paid my lawyer’s fees, party arbitrator, and neutral arbitrator. He netted less than $35,000 for a permanent injury on his spine. The aforementioned article states that arbitration is less costly than trial but truth of the matter is my client suffered serious consequences by waiving his Constitutional right to a jury trial without completely understanding the paperwork.
If you are going to a doctor’s office, make sure you discuss all matters with your doctor and lawyer. There are a lot of CA trial lawyers specializing in personal injuries to help you in the event you find yourself needing to make a claim.