Florida Supreme Court Does Away With Parts Of 2013 Medical Malpractice Law

On Thursday, November 9, the Florida Supreme Court rejected sections of the state’s medical malpractice law. In a 4-3 decision, the state supreme court justices said the medical malpractice law could cause privacy issues in the disclosure of patients’ private health information.

According to the Palm Beach Post, the medical malpractice legislation was put into law in 2013. The reasons for it were to allow defense attorneys to gather information from doctors treating the plaintiff during the medical malpractice dispute.

The part of the law which came under fire from state supreme court justices was the law’s allowance of conversations between defense attorneys to doctors to occur outside of the plaintiff attorneys’ presence. The four justices who voted against the law said the communications may lead to patient privacy violations.

“Even the possibility that a person’s extremely sensitive private medical information will be exposed is the type of governmental intrusion that the Florida Constitution protects against,” said Justice R. Fred Lewis, “because it is impossible to know if an inadvertent disclosure occurred when the meetings are not only ex parte and without a judge, but also secret without a record.”

Lewis was just one of the four justices to vote against the 2013 law. Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga also voted to do away with these parts of the medical malpractice law.

Those in dissent included justices Ricky Polson, Alan Lawson, and Charles Canady. The dissenting justices called the majority opinion an unwarranted interference with the state law and disagreed that the 2013 law violated privacy rights.

“Because the 2013 amendments do not in any way authorize the discussion of irrelevant medical information,” said Canady, “medical malpractice claimants have no constitutional right to prevent the ex parte meetings.”

The 2013 amendment to the state’s medical malpractice law came at a time when doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys were in a years-long conflict involving the state’s medical malpractice system. Those who supported the law in 2013 said the ex parte communications made available between doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys would potentially resolve medical malpractice cases without the need for a trial.

Compared to the 917,100 employees who missed work due to occupational illnesses and injuries in 2013, up to 2,061 patients filed complaints against a physician in the state of Florida in 2014 alone. Many improvements have been made to reduce the number of medical malpractice cases and reduce patient discomfort in hospitals.

For instance, approximately 82% of hospital respondents reported offering CAM therapies. However, there are still up to 16.2 medical malpractice lawsuits for every 100,000 people in Florida as of 2017.

The ruling to rid these ex parte sections from the 2013 law came after a case from Escambia County. The case involved Emma Gayle Weaver, a plaintiff who had planned to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against Steven Myers, a physician.

According to court documents, Weaver was filing a lawsuit on behalf of her deceased husband. Weaver was concerned about the constitutionality of the ex-parte communications that may be involved with the case. The change in the state law guarantees the medical privacy of Floridians even after death.

“Death does not retroactively abolish the constitutional protections for privacy that existed at the moment of death,” said Lewis.

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