June 30, 2008

Utah Supreme Court Rules Medical Arbitration Agreement Doesn’t Prevent Suit By Decedent’s Wife

The wife of a man who committed suicide after taking antidepressant medicine may sue the doctor who prescribed it even though her husband had signed an agreement requiring any claims against the doctor be arbitrated, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled. After prescribing medication to treat the man's depression, the doctor renewed the prescription with a stronger dose. The man committed suicide.

His wife sued the doctor for wrongful death, claiming that he had failed to re-evaluate her husband's condition and his response to the medication before increasing the dose. She alleged that this failure fell below the standard of care for a reasonable physician.

The doctor sought to arbitrate her wrongful death claim under the terms of the agreement signed by her husband.

But the court ruled that the plaintiff's case could go forward, affirming a trial court.

"The only intended beneficiary of the contract for medical services between [the doctor] and [the husband] was the patient," the court said. "As what was, at most, an incidental beneficiary of her husband's medical treatment, [the plaintiff] acquired no rights based on [her husband's] physician-patient relationship with [the doctor]."

Further, the court noted, "a decedent does not have the power to contract away the wrongful death action of his heirs."

Utah Supreme Court. Bybee v. Abdulla, No. 20060424. June 3, 2008. Lawyers USA No. 99310111.

Originally published by Lawyers USA Staff.

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