E-Alerts & Press Releases

PJC Supports Vulnerable Consumer’s Right to Jury Trial

Carter Bradley allegedly died from infected bed sores when he was denied proper care at a nursing home. After his death, his estate filed a medical malpractice claim, but the trial court ruled that the estate was contractually obliged to submit the claim to arbitration and prevented it from presenting the claim to a jury. Upon appeal of this decision, the Public Justice Center (PJC), along with the Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, Civil Justice, the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, served as friends-of-the-court (amici curiae) and argued that mandatory arbitration contracts often creates hardships for consumers and employees who have limited bargaining power and lack financial resources. Monisha Cherayil and Matt Hill, respectively the current and former Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellow, wrote the amicus brief.

The PJC’s brief explained that litigants who live in poverty have a harder time pursuing claims against employers or providers of goods and services when they participate in arbitration rather than litigating in court. For example, in arbitration, individuals often cannot seek attorney’s fees or punitive damages or proceed by class action, and they are frequently required to pay fees up front even if they are poor. Because individuals living in poverty lack bargaining power, they usually have no choice but to enter into these agreements as a condition of employment or receiving needed goods and services. The result is that thousands of people living in poverty are effectively unable to secure remedies for injuries they have suffered at the hands of employers and other institutional actors.

On May 24, the Court of Appeals ruled that Bradley’s estate had a right to litigate its claims in court. The court’s opinion mentioned the PJC’s brief, and acknowledged that arbitration agreements can be unfair to people who lack bargaining power, at least in the healthcare context.

« Back