Arbitration agreements can be useful to finding quicker resolutions to some disputes. However, over the years the process has morphed from a tool that parties honestly agree to use into a one-sided attempt to limit rights of consumers. Now these clauses are showing up in the healthcare area. The Florida Supreme Court recently reviewed an arbitration clause contained in a financial agreement signed by a patient prior to surgery. The Supreme Court determined that the arbitration clause was against Florida law and ordered the trial court to set a date for trial.
Because arbitration agreements may limit one’s ability to seek full recovery following Florida medical malpractice, it is important to understand what you are actually signing if you agree to an arbitration clause in a document.
A patient saw a doctor and the doctor’s medical practice about medical treatment. The patient signed a four-page financial agreement that contained an arbitration clause. The clause stated that any dispute between the doctor and the patient “regardless of whether the dispute concerns the medical care rendered, including any negligence claim relating to the diagnosis, treatment, or care of the Patient, or payment of surgical fees, or any other matter whatsoever, then the parties agree that the dispute shall be resolved by arbitration as provided by the Florida Arbitration Code, Chapter 682 (Florida Statutes). This arbitration shall be in lieu and instead of any trial by Judge or Jury.”
The financial agreement also limited the amount a patient could recoup from the doctor and medical group to $250,000 per incident.
The doctor performed surgery and everything looked fine. Two days later, the patient was in great pain and went to the emergency room. A CT scan showed that a large blood clot had formed at the operation site because of a nicked vein. Nine days later, the patient died.
Trial and Appellate Court Decisions
The patient’s wife filed a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death. The medical practice showed the financial agreement and said the patient agreed to arbitration. The trial court ordered arbitration with reservations. The wife appealed, but the First District Court of Appeals upheld the arbitration order.
Florida Supreme Court
The wife appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. The Court determined that the financial agreement violated the intent of the Medical Malpractice Act. The Medical Malpractice Act “presents the Legislature’s careful balancing of the rights of patients and the needs of doctors in order to address the medical malpractice crisis. Further, the MMA was enacted to limit the remedies available to patients, which represents a change to the remedy available to patients.”
While the financial agreement met the intent of the MMA to have claims submitted to arbitration to reduce attorneys’ fees, litigation costs, and delay, the damages limitation did not. Under the MMA, the wife would be entitled to a maximum of $1 million if the wife won at trial. The financial agreement cap of $250,000 went against the stated intent of the MMA and therefore the public policy put in place by the legislature.
The Supreme Court determined that the limitation of damages clause was an integral part of the financial agreement that it could not be separated out and the entire agreement was void.
An injured person should always seek to protect all their legal rights by consulting with an attorney before agreeing to arbitration. Our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys are here to assist you in your time of need.
The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, PA. will provide a free, no obligation consultation at our South Florida offices located in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties. If you are unable to travel, we can see you at your home, hospital, or other location which is convenient for you. Call us at 305-653-5555 or contact us to schedule your free consultation today.