Bias Arbitration Laws Subject to Scrutiny in Florida

The balancing act of protecting the rights of patients along with the rights of health care professionals is never-ending. The medical field attempts to curb legal disputes by including arbitration clauses within the paperwork a patient must sign when requiring medical attention; however, it is less than effective in the state of Florida where the laws surrounding arbitration and unclear and seem to favor the doctor over the patient.

Currently, there is a case in Florida that has gone all the way to their Supreme Court where the wife of a patient is suing her husband’s doctors after his death. What this trial has brought to light is that there is no clear cut, fair way of dealing with patients bringing a case against doctors for malpractice in Florida. Usually, if a patient has signed an arbitration agreement they have given up any and all rights to a trial by jury and instead will need to plead their case to an impartial panel. To maintain fairness in this process, the doctor who agrees to arbitration by default admits liability and the complainant’s maximum possible compensation is $250,000. In Florida, this is not fully the case. Although the complainant is still only able to receive up to $250,000 in damages, the medical professional does not need to automatically claim liability upon agreeing to arbitration.

What this then leads to is a process that seems to be very biased towards the doctor, as the patient not only has a limit on compensation they can receive, they also have to prove the doctor is liable, which can be a very pricey endeavour. Those within the Florida legal system have tried to create some legislation to level the playing field between patient and doctor but have thus far met with little success as Floridian doctors have vehemently opposed any changes to the way arbitration agreements are handled. Now, however, with a case regarding this matter before the supreme court of Florida, the current patient disadvantage in arbitration agreements will likely be examined, potentially resulting in a balance returning to all future patient/doctor arbitrations.