If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A Florida Supreme Court decision provides a variation on the adage: if a contract looks too favorable to one side to be valid, it probably isn’t.
Thirty-nine weeks pregnant and experiencing contractions, Mrs. Crespo arrived at her doctor’s office. Because she was a few minutes late for her appointment, the doctor wouldn’t see her and instead gave her an appointment for four days later. On the third day she delivered a stillborn son.
When the Crespos filed a malpractice suit, the doctor moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration pursuant to a contract Mrs. Crespo had signed. The Crespos requested binding arbitration under the Florida Medical Malpractice Act (MMA). The doctor refused, insisting on enforcing the contract.
A Florida Court of Appeal found the contract void as against public policy. Because that decision directly conflicted with another appellate decision, the Florida Supreme Court accepted it for review.
Reviewing the contract line by line, the court found it hopelessly one-sided in favor of the doctor. Essentially, the contract included all the MMA features favorable to a doctor but excluded virtually all pro-patient features.
For example, the MMA provides a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in return for the doctor’s admission of liability. What did the contract say on the subject? You guessed it: the contract kept the cap but omitted the admission. In all, the court found that the contract diverged from the statutory scheme in six material ways—all of them favoring the doctor.
The court approved the appellate decision finding the Crespo contract void as against public policy, and it disapproved and remanded the conflicting appellate decision.
The case is Hernandez v. Crespo, No. SC15-67 (Fla. Dec. 22, 2016).