Washington Law Review

Article

Choosing Medical Malpractice

January 01, 2018 | 93 Wash. L. Rev. 891

Abstract: Modern principles of patient autonomy and health care consumerism are at odds with medical malpractice law’s traditional skepticism towards the defenses of contractual waiver and assumption of risk. Many American courts follow a patient-protective view, exemplified by the reasoning in the seminal Tunkl case, rejecting any attempts by physicians to relieve themselves of liability on the grounds of a patient’s agreement to assume the risk of malpractice. However, where patients pursue unconventional treatments that satisfy their personal preferences but that arguably fall outside the standard of care, courts have good reason to be more receptive to such defenses. This Article fills an important gap in the scholarly debate about whether patients and physicians should be able to modify their default duties under tort law, demonstrating that two lines of rarely-acknowledged cases—dealing with alternative therapies and Jehovah’s Witness blood refusals—lend support to the principle that patients who choose malpractice should be limited in their right to tort recovery.

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