Read The Small Print! – Don’t Just Say “Fine” When Asked To Sign

Howard County General Hospital’s Medical Release and Consent Form – Be careful what you sign!!

Recently I sought to have an ultrasound diagnostic procedure performed at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland.

I was asked to sign what appeared to be a consent and release to enable the hospital to contact my insurance company for payment of the bill.  The form initially discussed my consent to enable the hospital to bill my health insurance and if the insurance company did not pay all or some portion of the charges,  I was then personally responsible.  That was perfectly fine with me.

This form was presented to me as I stood in front of the receptionist.  Because I am a lawyer, I read the entire form and, to my dismay, I found language wherein I  would  be consenting  to the following:  In the event I  had any claim against the hospital,  before bringing any court action and specifically filing a lawsuit , I would first go through mediation.  After mediation I still had the right to sue the hospital.

At first blush that might not seem too bad because I still had the right to sue the hospital.  But for those of you who have not been involved in a medical malpractice case, the ‘’ Consent ‘’ you would be signing could seriously prejudice your rights.

Serious medical malpractice cases require experts and it would not be unusual to spend $50,000 to $100,000 for the testimony of experts.  Normally, to bring a medical malpractice action, you must first file a claim with the Health Claims Arbitration Board and have a type of trial before the Board.  However,  if you want to bring a cause of action and you have signed the Hospital’s consent form,  you will be required to participate in mediation before your claim is heard before the Board.  With the hospital’s requirement for mediation, you may have to pay for expert testimony more than once, maybe as many as three separate times.  How would you like to pay the experts at mediation and again at the Board?

So, what the receptionist presented to me that seemed to be merely a   consent to the authorization for payment of charges by my insurance carrier turned out to be a consent to frustrate my ultimate desire to sue the hospital and  to double the cost to me of doing so.

Further, I was compromised because the receptionist expected me to sign immediately when, realistically, it would take several or more minutes to read and understand the consent form.  As I hesitated, I was told that I would still have the opportunity to sue the hospital so, therefore, just simply sign.  I objected to signing a portion of the consent form and underlined the portion that I found objectionable.  I offered to sign the form but to remove the language that related to the mediation requirement.

The receptionist next told me that she would have to speak with her supervisor and that since the supervisor did not answer the call,  she could only leave a voice mail.  The receptionist then offered to walk over to the building where her supervisor was stationed and, upon returning, informed me that attempts were made to reach the lawyers in the hospital’s Legal Department

After about 20 minutes of talking with the receptionist, I was told that the lawyer did not return the call of the hospital staff and that because of the time taken to deal with my objection to the language of the form, it was too late to proceed with the ultrasound.  Also I understood that they could not proceed with the ultrasound  because I had not signed the consent form.

I have not had a lawyer represent me in a medical malpractice case and, hopefully, I will never have that need.  But if you sign the consent as it is written by Howard County General Hospital, you are prejudicing your rights and that may harm you in the future. If you have to go to mediation as a first step in a claim process,  it may cost so much money for experts in pursuit of your claim that it becomes burdensome and financially impractical to the point that you never get to court.

It is likely that the requirement of mediation is an effort to prevent you or to frustrate you from asserting your rights to compensation when you have been damaged by medical malpractice.

Therefore, do not sign these consent forms that prejudice your rights.  When you are requested to sign forms, you need to read them thoroughly and completely and be sure that you understand them fully so that you do not give up important rights.   Don’t hesitate to exercise your right to object to terms and conditions in a service provider’s forms.

Update:   I called back to the hospital and learned that the lawyers at Howard County General Hospital had agreed to allow me to strike the objectionable mediation provision.

Fred Antenberg is an attorney in Columbia, Maryland, who represents individuals in practice areas such as medical malpractice and personal injury in Howard County and surrounding counties in Maryland.

Give Fred a call at 410 730 4404