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You may not have noticed it with all of the other bad news these days, but your right to a jury trial in a civil action is being eroded. Between the Federal Arbitration Act that allows the inclusion of arbitration agreements in a number of consumer contracts and the latest affront to plaintiff’s rights sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing such provisions in nursing home admission agreements, juries are being replaced by arbitrators. What does this mean to you who believed your right to a jury trial was firmly woven into the fabric of this country?

When arbitrations result in monetary awards they are estimated to be 30% lower than jury verdicts. This has the cascading effect of lower settlement offers in cases subject to binding arbitration. Overall, the conventional wisdom is that the specter of binding arbitration favors defendants and makes them less likely to settle cases when they can enjoy the contained costs and security of an arbitration proceeding presenting a case before a retired judge or attorney as opposed to a jury of twelve of the plaintiff’s peers. Even better for the defense bar, arbitrations are often cloaked in secrecy; thus subverting precedence, a cornerstone of jurisprudence.

That is why it is especially shocking that as a matter of public policy we are allowing binding arbitration agreements to be required of individuals on admission to an elder care facility like a nursing home. Talk about duress that under any other circumstances would void a contract! The law of the land today is that nursing homes may require residents to sign an agreement that contains a binding arbitration provision as a condition of admission. Picture your elderly loved one, in the process of transferring from a hospital, unable to return home, filled with anxiety and fear, perusing a voluminous contract with a binding arbitration provision and no where else to go. It is atrocious.

As an advocate I will always fight for your right to have your case heard by a jury. As a consumer, you must also advocate for yourself. This is the best way to guarantee your rights. Read the contracts you sign. Never be afraid to ask for the arbitration provision to be stricken from any contract. Be especially vigilant when the agreement could impact your rights concerning personal injury. Likely the person or company on the other side of that contract is more interested in closing the sale. So if you force the issue, they will roll the dice, giving up arbitration, instead, taking the chance on facing you in court. If that happens, I will be on your side.

 

Laird M. Ozmon, Attorney at Law

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