A growing number of doctors are requiring patients to agree not to sue them if something goes wrong with their treatment.

These doctors are requiring patients to sign a contract saying that if they accuse the doctor of malpractice, the case will go to arbitration.

Arbitration is a process where a third party decides an issue without a judge or a jury being involved. Arbitration is quicker and cheaper than going to court, and arbitration requirements are fairly common in contracts between big companies. But having doctors force patients to sign arbitration agreements is new.

In theory, arbitrators are supposed to be neutral, but in practice, it’s often the doctor who gets to choose the arbitrator or pick the company that will provide the arbitrator. Plus, various rules and rights that help level the playing field in court don’t necessarily apply in arbitration.

However, it’s not clear that doctor-patient arbitration agreements are always legally valid, so even if you signed one, it might still be possible to have a court decide your claim.

In one recent case, a patient in Florida signed an arbitration agreement before having surgery. The agreement also said that in any malpractice claim, the amount the patient could be awarded for pain and suffering would be capped at $250,000.

After surgery, the patient died from complications caused by the laceration of a vein during the operation. And despite the arbitration agreement, the Florida Supreme Court said the patient’s wife could sue in court for malpractice.

According to the court, this particular agreement violated the state’s malpractice law because it was too one-sided in favor of the doctor.

Arbitration agreements can come up in many other contexts, too, such as when people sign contracts for nursing home care. ​

If you feel the need to discuss a possible malpractice injury, contact us for a free telephone consultation at 233-7200 or 1-800-903-8101.