Physician Non-Solicitation and Non-Competition
Nationwide, disputes between doctors and their employers are common, because in the corporate consolidations that define today’s medical industry, doctors tend more often to be employees or members of a medical practice than independent practitioners.
The majority of physician employment contracts contain noncompete and/or non-solicitation clauses. Many physicians agree to certain conditions when they begin working for a medical practice. These conditions frequently include an obligation not to solicit employees or patients of the practice for a specified time, e.g., for two or three years within a specified geographic scope, and a promise not to cause any of the employees or patients to leave the practice. Many such agreements address what doctors may or may not tell patients when they are planning to leave their practice.
But frequently after a doctor leaves a practice, regardless what the exiting doctor may actually have said to patients about his or her departure, patient-clients may also decide to leave, which can prompt a doctor’s former practice to sue the doctor. Even if an employer would prefer not to sue doctors who leave a medical practice for violating the terms of his or her employment contract, legal counsel for the medical practice or employer may advise that a lawsuit is the best approach to avoid setting a precedent of non-enforcement that might hurt the employer’s ability to enforce the same or similar contract in future litigation.
Garden variety contract disputes require courts to determine the parties’ intent. Non-compete disputes are more nuanced, and certainly in the medical context. Courts weigh numerous factors, such as whether the medical practice or employer seeking to enforce the noncompete actually needs protection and whether enforcement of a physician noncompete would affect patient care or access to medical services. In other words, will enforcement of a non-compete restriction impair the continuity of care, harm the patient emotionally, or simply prevent the care a patient is perceived to deserve?
Sometimes these disputes are avoidable because the doctor who leaves the practice moves far enough away geographically so there is no violation of the non-competition restrictions, or simply far enough away that a court will not enforce the restriction.
However, while different state laws control the outcome of litigation involving non-compete and non-solicitation agreements, and sometimes courts will enforce non-competition or non-solicitation agreements as written, courts also may refuse to grant a temporary or preliminary injunction to prevent a doctor in this situation from working with the practice's former clients while the litigation is pending in court, if not also as the final result of the lawsuit. Not unlike the client of a lawyer having the final say regarding who his or her lawyer shall be, a court hearing a medical non-competition dispute may find that a strong public interest in allowing people to choose and retain their medical providers outweighs the benefits of the noncompete agreement between a medical practice and its doctors.
The medical practice attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle have over thirty years of experience defending and prosecuting disputes between physicians over ownership disagreements and non-compete covenants and unpaid wages and wide variety of other business dispute lawsuits arising between physicians in the same medical practice. As reflected, the reviews we have received from our physician clients, we are committed to fighting for our clients' rights at both the trial and appellate court levels in in arbitration proceedings. We have successfully prosecuted cases for physicians that vindicated that positions and resulted in large six figure judgments or settlements. Conveniently located in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have successfully medical practice related cases for our physician clients all over the Chicago area. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, you can contact us online or give us a call at 630-333-0333.