Don’t Skip the Fine Print

Here’s the scenario:

You’re 45 with a beautiful wife and 3 well-behaved kids.  You live in a big house in the nice part of town.  Things really couldn’t be better.

One day, as you’re driving home from work, your wife calls to tell you that her father has been rushed to the hospital.  He’d taken a pretty nasty fall.  But overall he’ll be alright.

When you arrive at the hospital your wife greets you and says, “the doctors think dad should spend a few weeks at the nursing home for rehab and monitoring.”  No big deal, right?

A few days later your helping your father-in-law get situated in his new room at Shady Pine’s Nursing Home (made up name).  A tall lady in a pant-suit comes in with a huge stack of papers.

“Good morning,” she says with a slim smile.  “When you get your father-in-law settled, I need to you come by the office and sign a few things, but don’t worry, it’s just a couple standard forms.”

A sore wrist and an hour later, you finally are getting in your car.  “I really didn’t read any of those papers,” you think to yourself.  “Oh well, that nice lady seemed trustworthy, I’m sure there won’t be a problem.”

But, the very next day, you get a call.  It’s your wife.  “Honey, dad fell again,” she says.  Apparently, one of the staff members at the nursing home was negligent and set the treadmill (the one used for rehabilitation) on the wrong speed.  The old man just couldn’t keep up.  Now, he’s in immense pain and is going to require surgery.

“We’re suing!!!!” You wife continuously screams those words at that nice lady you met with a few days earlier.  “I don’t think so,” the lady retorts.  “Your husband signed an arbitration agreement.”

Your phone rings…..it’s your wife…..and she’s angry!!!!

So, what’s the point here……READ BEFORE YOU SIGN!!!!

Let me explain.

Because the husband in this scenario failed to read those stack of papers, he unknowingly agreed to, what we in the legal world referred to as, alternative dispute resolution….or Arbitration.

Arbitration agreements or clauses are a favorite among nursing homes and other medical providers.  They love them.  That’s probably because they tend to be “defendant friendly.” No court rooms, no judges (at least no formal, black robe-wearing judges).  In arbitration, a person called an “arbitrator” will decide who’s right and whose wrong.

But this isn’t a post about the pros and cons of arbitration.  This post is about reading the fine print.

You see, 99% of the time the law doesn’t care if you actually read a contract before signing it.  In fact, if your signature is on the document, the law will presume that you read and understood every word in the agreement.  It doesn’t matter if the other party verbally told you everything that was in the contract or if he/she told you “not to worry, it’s just a couple of standard forms.”

Once you sign it, your argument that you didn’t “read it” goes out the window.

So what am I getting at with all this????

READ BEFORE YOU SIGN. Take a copy of the document home with you.  Read it and then read it again.  It might not be a bad idea to let an attorney review it with you.  Don’t fall victim to the “fine print.”

If the person seeking your signature wont let you take a copy home and review it, TURN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION AND RUN!!!  There’s obviously something in the document they don’t want you to read.

So, the next time you’re presented with a contract or written agreement.  Please, please, please….take some time and read the fine print.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Good Legal Health.

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