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Court Rejects Medical Malpractice Arbitration Agreement

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an arbitration agreement in a medical-malpractice case involving an infant who was stillborn.

Justices, in a 5-2 ruling in the Orange County case, said that an arbitration agreement signed by Lualhati Crespo, whose son was stillborn, and the physician group Women's Care Florida was invalid.

Crespo and her husband filed a medical-malpractice lawsuit in 2013 and later requested binding arbitration under a process spelled out in state law. But Women's Care Florida rejected the request, contending that Crespo had signed an agreement that would lead to binding arbitration through another process.

The majority of the Supreme Court sided with Crespo, saying the arbitration agreement was "void as against public policy" because it included terms that were "clearly favorable" to Women's Care Florida, such as terms related to the selection of an arbitration panel. "We find that arbitration agreements which change the cost, award, and fairness incentives of the MMA (Medical Malpractice Act) statutory provisions contravene the Legislature's intent and are therefore void as against public policy," said the majority opinion written by Justice Peggy Quince and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and James E.C. Perry.

"If the Legislature had intended for parties to pick and choose which of the MMA's provisions to include in their arbitration agreements, the MMA statutory scheme would be meaningless." Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.