Your Agreement to Arbitrate May Not Be Enforceable

Your Agreement to Arbitrate May Not Be Enforceable

The medical profession and their insurance companies, prefer the process of arbitration to resolve disputes rather than the normal litigation process.  Arbitration is an alternative to regular litigation as it is often cheaper and is usually confidential.  It has become a common practice to slip an agreement to arbitrate into the paperwork a patient signs before consulting with a doctor or before a surgical procedure.  When an agreement to arbitrate is signed in a situation like this, is it enforceable?

Maybe not.

In a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision, King v. Bryant, the Supreme Court ruled the agreement to arbitrate was unenforceable.

In King v. Bryant, the court ruled that a fiduciary relationship was created between Mr. King and his doctor.  A fiduciary relationship is one in which confidence is entrusted to one party, giving that party superiority and influence over the other person.  When a fiduciary relationship is created, the fiduciary must act in good faith and in the interest of the person he or she has created the relationship with.

Another example of a fiduciary relationship is the attorney-client relationship.  The attorney must act in good faith and in the client’s interests.

Because a fiduciary relationship was created between Mr. King and his doctor, his doctor had a duty to make full disclosures regarding the arbitration agreement, especially since the agreement benefited the doctor and not Mr. King.  The most important disclosure that should have been made was that it was completely optional to sign the agreement.  Mr. King was given several sheets of intake paperwork to fill out at the time of his appointment.  His only instruction was to fill out and sign the bottom of each form.  No one told Mr. King that one of the pieces of paper, the arbitration agreement was different and would cut off his access to the judicial system.  Indeed, no one told him that his signature was strictly voluntary.  Mr. King testified that, had he known that, he would not have signed the agreement.

Mr. King is not alone.  If you have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, you should speak with a knowledgeable North Carolina medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

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