Across the country, arbitration is taking over. In order to prevent consumers from banding together and filing class-action lawsuits when they are harmed, companies are forcing people to agree to arbitrate their disputes outside of court, one-on-one.
The Supreme Court of the United States has facilitated this shift toward arbitration because we, as a nation, value freedom of contract. Arbitration is something that must be contracted, so in the eyes of the court, it must be something both parties want. As an added benefit, moving disputes out of the courtroom and into arbitration frees up judicial resources for things like criminal cases.
New Jersey’s Arbitration Laws
New Jersey, however, is not going along with this trend. Our courts are suspicious that arbitration is a better alternative to traditional lawsuits. There is also concern that consumers are being forced to sign contracts calling for arbitration without understanding that they are giving up basic legal rights.
This fear was highlighted in a recent appellate court decision titled Ricciardi v. Abingdon Care & Rehabilitation Center. In this case, a man named John Ricciardi was admitted to Kindred Hospital for long-term care. He suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and bipolar disorder, and he has required round-the-clock care for many years.
Ricciardi alleges that Kindred’s negligence caused him to develop multiple advanced-stage pressure ulcers, resulting in “great pain, suffering, disability, loss of quality of life and medical expense.” He attempted to sue Kindred for compensation for his injuries.
Kindred insisted that the case be arbitrated. Ricciardi had signed a contract when he was admitted to the hospital that said all disputes would be arbitrated.
Ricciardi argued that the arbitration agreement was not valid because he signed it at the same time he signed a packet of 12 documents needed to get him in the door. All of the documents were signed within one minute, indicating they were not read by Ricciardi or explained to him as sped through the admission process. Ricciardi was not given a copy of the agreement, and he was taking medication that made him dizzy, nauseous, and light-headed at the time.
All of these factors together lead the court to invalidate the arbitration agreement Ricciardi signed. This is great news for anyone in our state who has suffered an injury, tried to sue, and been informed that they must arbitrate their claims instead. The court has provided us a path to follow when we need to challenge unfair arbitration agreements.
Is there anything wrong with arbitration?
There is nothing inherently wrong with arbitration, but it is not the same as having your day in court. We understand how important it can be to have your dispute heard by a judge, in open court, for all the world to see. It allows you to tell your story, and have confidence that the legal proceeding is fair and impartial.
If you have been injured, and you are being told that you must arbitrate your dispute, don’t hesitate to reach out and let our team take a look at your case. It may be possible to challenge the arbitration agreement so you can have your day in court.
Posted in: Personal Injury