Earlier this month, one state appellate court issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case brought by a woman who suffered serious injuries after a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctors. The case presented the court with the opportunity to determine the validity of a medical release waiver that the plaintiff had signed prior to undergoing the surgery. Ultimately, the court concluded that the waiver was ambiguous and contained contradictory statements. Thus, the court decided that the lower court was improper to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim based on the waiver.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was required to have a spinal fusion surgery. Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff signed a release, stating:
As of January 1, 2003, [the defendants] will not carry any medical malpractice insurance. Being of sound mind and sound body, I hereby acknowledge this fact and agree not to [the defendants] for any reason. My reason for doing this is that I realize that [the defendants] will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.
During the surgery, the plaintiff suffered a severed ureter, which resulted in significant injuries. The plaintiff then filed a medical malpractice case against the doctors.
The defendant doctors asked the trial court to dismiss the case against them, citing the medical release that the plaintiff signed. The trial court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case. The plaintiff then appealed.
The Case Is Reversed on Appeal
On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the medical release waiver was too ambiguous to be given legal effect. The court began its analysis by looking back at previous cases that presented similar issues. Ultimately, the court concluded that release waivers – or exculpatory clauses, as they are also known – are disfavored by the law because they completely absolve one party of responsibility and shift the risk of injury onto the party least equipped to manage that risk. However, the court noted that in some cases, exculpatory clauses will be upheld.
The court explained that the enforceability of an exculpatory clause depends on whether it is sufficiently clear. Here, the court held, the exculpatory clause at issue was ambiguous because on one hand, the waiver stated that the defendants did not have medical malpractice insurance, and the plaintiff acknowledged that fact and agreed not to sue. However, the next sentence concerned the court in that it seemed to contradict the previous two sentences. When read as a complete paragraph, the court determined that the exculpatory clause was not clear and may only “driv[e] 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.”
Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to the negligence of a medical provider, you may be entitled to compensation through an Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit. The skilled injury attorneys at the personal injury law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse have decades of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of medical malpractice cases, including those in which a patient signed a medical release waiver. To learn more about Indiana medical malpractice cases, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
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