In search of an enforceable medical malpractice exculpatory agreement: Introducing confidential contracts as a solution to the doctor-patient relationship problem

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Abstract

Scholars have argued that the malpractice system would be better off if patients had the option of waiving the right to sue for malpractice in exchange for a lower fee. Some doctors have tried to follow this advice by having their patients sign medical malpractice exculpatory agreements, but courts usually have refused to enforce these agreements, invoking a void-for-public-policy rationale. This Note argues that a doctor could maximize the odds that a court would enforce her medical malpractice exculpatory agreement by somehow ensuring that she will never find out whether her patient decided to sign. A case study of the law in New York highlights the ambiguity in the void-for-public-policy rationale as to whether the simple fact that the doctor-patient relationship is implicated in a medical malpractice contract is fatal to enforcement, or whether such a contract could be enforced if it were nonadhesive and clearly worded. A behavioral-economic analysis of the patient's decision to sign a medical malpractice exculpatory agreement reveals a reason why the agreements may be categorically barred: Some patients might unwillingly agree to sign for fear of signaling distrust or litigiousness to their doctors. A confidential contract-in which the offeror never knew whether the offeree had accepted or not-would avoid this signaling effect. A provider using such a contract could distinguish those cases in which the doctor-patient relationship alone seemed to justify nonenforcement as not involving this prophylactic measure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)850-879
Number of pages30
JournalNew York University Law Review
Volume84
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law

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