Medical malpractice lawsuit avoids arbitration in court decision

Many business contracts in Illinois contain an arbitration clause that requires the parties to go to arbitration to resolve a legal dispute instead of going to trial. Like other forms of alternative dispute resolution, arbitration typically costs less and damages are frequently capped lower than state law.

Readers can likely understand why businesses would like the idea of limiting how much their customers can collect in damages, no matter how much they were actually harmed by the business. Many physicians, like other business owners, have begun including arbitration clauses in documents that their patients sign in case they commit medical malpractice.

Many observers say that such clauses are unfair because they could mean that patients who were severely harmed by their doctors’ malpractice could not be made financially whole. That was the subject of a decision made by the supreme court of another state. Though the decision does not affect the law in Illinois, it could suggest the way such a case could go in this state.

The plaintiff in the case is the widow of a 67-year-old man who died after undergoing hernia surgery. The surgical facility that performed the operation had him sign an arbitration agreement beforehand that limited possible non-economic damages in the event of malpractice to $250,000. The widow later sued, claiming that medical negligence contributed to her husband’s death. She also argued that the arbitration requirement went against public policy because it sharply limited the amount of potential compensation regardless of the harm suffered.

The state supreme court agreed. The decision noted that the clinic gave up virtually nothing in return for the patient giving up his rights. Instead, the plaintiff should be entitled to take the clinic to civil court, the decision concluded.



Source: The News-Press, “Florida justices reject medical malpractice agreement in patient’s death,” Jim Saunders, June 20, 2013

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