Anyone who has ever had a medical procedure or surgery performed has likely been confronted with a medical release waiver. These contracts are designed to limit – or altogether eliminate – a health care provider’s liability in the event something goes wrong during the procedure. While the intention of these contracts is to prevent a patient’s ability to proceed with a medical malpractice case, the reality is that courts often look upon these agreements with disfavor. A recent case out of Florida illustrates how one court struck down one such agreement on the basis that it was too vague.
The Facts of the Case
The defendant was a doctor who performed a spinal fusion surgery on the plaintiff. During the surgery, something went wrong, and the plaintiff’s ureter was severed. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice case against the doctor, claiming that the doctor’s negligence resulted in his injuries.
In a pre-trial motion, the doctor asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, based on an agreement the plaintiff had signed prior to the procedure. The agreement stated:
As of January 1, 2003, [the defendant] will not carry any medical malpractice insurance. Being of sound mind and sound body, I hereby acknowledge this fact and agree not to sue [the defendant] for any reason. My reason for doing this is that I realize that [the defendant] will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.
The trial court interpreted the agreement to mean that the plaintiff had agreed not to sue the defendant, and it dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed.
The Case Is Reversed on Appeal
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the agreement was too vague and should not be given legal effect. The court agreed and reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case. The court began by reading each sentence in the agreement, acknowledging that the first two sentences indicated that the signer would be giving up his right to sue for any act of medical malpractice. However, the court was puzzled by the inclusion of the third sentence.
The court explained that, as a general rule of contract interpretation, each sentence in a contract must be given legal effect, and the document must be read as a whole. Here, the court held, the third sentence somewhat contradicted the first two. The first two sentences essentially gave up any right to sue; however, the third stated that the defendant would do his best under community standards. This, the court held, rendered the entire contract ambiguous because the contract could be read to lead “a person of ordinary intelligence [to] believe that the release could most reasonably be taken merely as driving home the fact that the defendant was not to bear any responsibility for injuries that ordinarily and inevitably would occur, without any fault of the defendant.” Because of this, the court was unwilling to give the contract any legal effect, and the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case was reversed.
Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in what you believe may have been an act of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice lawsuit. This may even be the case if you signed a medical release waiver prior to treatment. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience representing their injured clients in a wide range of medical malpractice cases, including those arising from surgical errors and misdiagnoses. Call 410-654-3600 today to schedule a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Appellate Court Rejects City’s Assertion of Immunity in Recent Personal Injury Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 9, 2017
Legal Liability for Accidents Occurring on Guided Tours in Washington, D.C., Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2017