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What Do Charlie Sheen, Nursing Homes And ABC Have in Common?

By now, everyone not living under a rock has probably seen at least one late night talk show with a rambling Charlie Sheen explaining that, despite his shambled appearance, he is “Winning” and explaining that “[CBS] picked a fight with a warlock.” You probably also know his late night antics got him fired from his show, Two and a Half Men. Sheen is fighting back and filed a lawsuit claiming the show breached his contract by firing him when he was sick (has anyone figured out what is wrong with him? Both Dr. Phil, and Dr. Drew have weighed in already.. paging Dr. Seuss….)

Anyways, so what exactly does the self proclaimed “bi-winning” “F-18” “rock star from Mars” actor’s lawsuit have to do with YOU? More than you might think!

You see, CBS has lawyers. Lots and lots and lots of good lawyers (some are probably even as good as me!) And you see, these smart lawyers have a job, and that is to protect CBS from lawsuits because lawsuits place common every day people on equally footing with million dollar corporations. They don’t like that. So, these good smart, corporate lawyers look for ways to avoid being taken to court before they are sued. You see, the CBS lawyers inserted something into Charlie’s contract to prevent him from suing CBS in court. It’s called an Arbitration Clause.

Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. That’s a fancy way of saying “If you sign this you can’t sue us in court and tell your case to a jury.” Arbitration forces you to bring you claim to an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators who then listen to both sides and decide the case. The decision is final and neither side can appeal. This is important because this means You lose accountability. The arbitrator is not accountable to a higher court, like a judge or jury would be. The arbitrator is the final decision maker.

According to Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, had this to say about the bias in favor of corporations that is built into the system:

For the most part, however, we believe the bias is built into the system, not the result of conscious decisions to favor big business. First of all, a fee structure that imposes costs disproportionately on claimants rather than defendants will necessarily favor defendants, because it discourages claims.

Second, arbitrator panels that consist primarily of business executives and corporate lawyers are less likely to have sympathy for claimants.

Third, businesses are more likely to be repeat customers of arbitrators, so there is a disincentive for an arbitrator to displease them.

The evidence that the second and third factors produce bias is the award amounts. Side-by-side comparisons of arbitrator awards to jury verdicts in similar types of cases consistently show that claimants in arbitration are awarded less than plaintiffs in court.

In fact, courts in some states have determined that some arbitration groups were so biased they should no longer be allowed to arbitrate consumer disputes in those states. An example of just one such case came out of Minnesota where the Attorney General sued the National Arbitration Forum for consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising. The civil suit, filed in state district court in Minneapolis, alleged conflicting ties between the NAF and debt-collection law firms that represented major credit-card companies. The suit also alleged that New York hedge fund Accretive LLC owned stakes in such collection law firms and the NAF, sending arbitration business between the two. Ultimately the NAF agreed to stop conducting consumer arbitration of credit card disputes and healthcare litigation.

So, what does this have to do with you? Our firm is seeing arbitration clauses popping up more and more frequently and no where are we seeing them more frequently than in nursing home admission paperwork and hospital admission paperwork. DO NOT SIGN AN ARBITRATION CLAUSE! A nursing home or hospital cannot deny admission to a patient because they refuse to sign an arbitration clause–so there is absolutely no reason to sign one, it only benefits the corporation that owns the nursing home or hospital because they know they will never have to expalin their conduct (or the profitability of their misconduct) to a jury.


Now, back to our friend Charlie. For reasons too complicated to get into here, I predict he will lose his suit and I don’t think it matters if he gets a trial or is forced to go to arbitration. It also appears his “comedy show” titled “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option” appears to have bombed in Detroit. But no worries, he has twenty shows left to figure it out.

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