Under a new Florida Medical Association (FMA) program, physicians may start asking patients to sign documents limiting the amount of money they could seek in malpractice lawsuits.
Patients who agree to sign would be able to seek no more than $250,000 in damages for pain and suffering caused by malpractice. Potentially, physicians could refuse to treat patients who do not sign the formal agreements.
FMA leaders say malpractice lawsuits are driving physicians out of state, and they hope the agreements will help retain hard-to-find specialists. A law professor who specializes in bioethics and health law, however, warns that the association appears motivated by a bitter fight with trial lawyers about limiting the number of malpractice lawsuits.
The announcement came on the heels of a state Supreme Court ruling that thwarted physicians’ efforts to constrain attorneys’ fees in malpractice suits. In 2004, Florida physicians supported a constitutional amendment that would place strict limits on how much attorneys could collect in malpractice contingency fees. The amendment, which passed, called for lawyers to receive a maximum of 30% of the first $250,000 in damages and 10% of higher amounts. The justices approved a procedural rule allowing attorneys to collect fees higher than the specified amounts only if their clients agree to it. FMA says its members are not obliged to participate.