Imagine a doctor leaving a surgical instrument inside your body and you’re told you have no legal recourse.
This happened to a West Palm Beach police officer; her doctor told her he’s protected because she signed an arbitration agreement.
Briggid Larson says she remembers waking up from hip surgery and being told everything was fine, “It’s all good, no complications.”
After more than ten days into recovery, she finds out everything wasn’t ok, she discovered a drill bit in her x-ray and asked, “what is that?”
According to Larson, Dr. Michael Cooney didn’t disclose that he had left the drill bit during surgery and knowingly closed her up.
Larson alleges Cooney rushed the surgery to attend to other patients and to leave town. Larson also says she only found out about the complication when she asked about it.
“It's a trust that's broken. When was he going to let me know, when was he going to claim some ownership of this,” she said.
Cooney and his attorney have declined to comment on the lawsuit Larson filed. They are however, fighting the suit, claiming protection under an arbitration agreement, a contract in which you agree to bring any legal claims you may have against a doctor to arbitration, rather than filing a lawsuit in court.
Unlike civil court, where matters are decided by judges and juries, an arbitration takes place before an arbitrator who is chosen by the parties.
Personal injury attorney, Karen Terry says, "signing an arbitration agreement only helps the doctor.”
Terry who is unaffiliated to the case says she is seeing arbitration agreements pop up everywhere. Her best advice is to avoid signing them, “If a doctor is going to refuse to treat me for that, then that’s going to be a doctor I don’t want to treat with.”
If handed an arbitration agreement, Terry says to read it. If you don't like it don't sign it and if you must sign, cross out and initial what you don’t like.
"All we're asking is for a level playing field. If you make an appointment with a physician and they have an arbitration agreement, they 'ought to tell you that in advance, so you can get there early and review it," Terry said.
Larson is also arguing the legitimacy of the arbitration agreement, claiming it includes caps on liability. Terry says those were found unconstitutional by the courts.
Both matters will be discussed during a hearing set for September 12 at the Palm Beach County courthouse.