Arbitration offers speedy, private resolution of conflicts in radiology

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Arbitration can be preferable to litigation as a means of resolving conflicts between members of a radiology practice or between physicians and outside vendors, according to an article published in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Arbitration is a private dispute resolution process in which parties present evidence to a third party, explained author Andrew Zwerling, Esq., of the law firm Garfunkel Wild in Great Neck, N.Y. This process involving an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators differs from the judge or jury process involved in litigation because the parties can have input on the selection of arbitrators. The rules of the actual proceedings also contrast between the two methods.

While one method may be preferable than the other in a given situation, Zwerling pointed out that radiologists may not have a choice in the matter. “This is because arbitration is a creature of contract, and it is common for employment contracts between radiologists and their employer medical practices to contain provisions mandating arbitration as the method of dispute resolution.”

Provided the parties involved in a dispute do have a choice, however, arbitration offers a number of advantages. Since the parties have input in the selection of an arbitrator, a person or panel of experts with relevant knowledge can be appointed, rather than a judge who may lack subject matter knowledge despite being a legal expert, wrote Zwerling.

Arbitration is potentially a faster process, added Zwerling. Court cases can take two or three years before a trial resolution or settlement, and longer if there are appeals after the decision. Arbitration’s simplified rules allow arbitrators to speed the process, usually resolving disputes within a year.

“A by-product of a speedier process is diminished costs attendant to arbitrations,” wrote Zwerling. Federal and state laws lead to lengthy and broad discovery of documents and depositions in litigation, which increases costs. The arbitral entity—the American Arbitration Association and the American Health Lawyers Association were two examples provided by Zwerling—collects a fee from the parties, but even this added cost generally doesn’t bring the legal fees required in arbitration to the levels seen in litigation.

An arbitration decision is final and not appealable; the award only needs to be confirmed by the court. Arbitrations also tend to be private, with no public right to records of the proceedings, unlike a civil trial. Both are benefits to parties looking for a quick resolution of a dispute involving information they prefer to be kept from the public eye, wrote Zwerling.

The finality of arbitration could be seen as a disadvantage, however, as the parties lose the opportunity to challenge results that may be seen as unjustified. Zwerling wrote that another potential flaw with arbitration is parties may prefer a process with clearer rules and procedures. The same rules that lengthen litigation proceedings and increase cost serve also to lessen the ambiguity that could be present in a resolution through arbitration.

“The short answer,” wrote Zwerling, “is that arbitration can offer significant advantages over litigation, if the arbitrator fulfills the obligation of maintaining control over the proceedings to ensure that they run smoothly and in a streamlined fashion.”