Hiring an attorney can be intimidating and costly. However, hiring representation for a Florida Board of Nursing or disciplinary case is an investment in your future and career. An experienced attorney is indispensable for preparing and defending your case. But how do you know if your representation is knowledgeable in health law?
Below are some examples of what an experienced attorney will not say to a nurse about his or her Board of Nursing or disciplinary case. Remember, if you hear any of the advice below, the attorney most likely has limited or no experience in this area of legal practice.
1. Your attorney tells you that you can argue your case to the Board of Nursing.
You cannot “argue your case” in front of the Board of Nursing. If you are at a hearing before the Board of Nursing, it is because you have requested an “informal hearing.”
If you have requested an “informal hearing” this means you do not dispute any of the facts alleged against you in the Department of Health (DOH) complaint. If you are not disputing the facts, this means you are agreeing that you are guilty. If you are at a hearing in front of the Board of Nursing, you will not be allowed to argue that you are not guilty, and you will not be allowed to call any witnesses or introduce any documents. You are only there for the purpose of determining how much punishment the Board will give you and this is based on guidelines that the Board has previously enacted.
2. If your attorney tells you that he or she does not intend to submit any information or documents for consideration by the Probable Cause Panel (PCP) of the Board of Nursing.
Many cases are dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel (PCP) and this is the easiest, most expedient, and least expensive way of winning your case. However, your presentation (written only) that is submitted to the PCP must be direct, concise, directly address the legal issues, and be well organized. It is not advisable to try to prepare this yourself. We often include affidavits from our own expert witnesses that have reviewed the case. If the PCP does not vote in favor of probable cause, the case is dismissed and closed. It is like it never happened. There is no record kept of the initial complaint.
The PCP of the Board of Nursing consists of between two and four members. Some of these can be laypersons with no experience in your area of healthcare. A majority has to vote and decide that there is probable cause. Therefore, if there are only two members, and you convince one that you did not do it, then there is no probable cause.
In my opinion, this is the best and quickest way to win your case, but you must know what you are doing. There are exceptions to every rule.
3. If your attorney tells you to meet with the DOH investigator or to give a statement (written or oral) to the investigator, especially without being present or preparing you.
DOH investigators are similar to police. If you give them any statement, this can be used to prove the case against you. In most cases, you never want to do this. Although there may be a rare exception, we strongly advise the client against this in about 99% of the cases we handle.
Even if you believe that you are totally innocent, your former employer, the unhappy patient who reported you, or the DOH prosecuting attorney may be convinced that you are not innocent and recommend that charges are prosecuted against you. Exhibit 1 used against you at a hearing will be your own statement. The first witness the DOH prosecutor will call to testify will be you.
Be smart in such matters. Don’t think you can just explain the case away. Don’t give evidence that can be used against you. It is not required under Florida law, and you cannot be compelled to do this.
4. If your attorney says you should call and negotiate with the DOH attorney, or PRN/IPN case manager.
As discussed above, anything you say can and will be used against you. This is one of the main reasons you should retain an experienced attorney: to act as a buffer between you and the legal system, to protect you, and shield you from mistakes you make that could hurt your defense.
Additionally, if your attorney is not much more familiar with the DOH and the PRN/IPN procedures than you are, then why have you hired him or her?
5. If your attorney tells you not to worry about the hearing, you can later appeal.
Only about 20% of cases are won on appeal. On appeal, the Court of Appeal is limited to the record of the hearing that was held. You are not allowed to reargue the facts in an appeal. You are limited to arguing about legal errors that were made during the hearing. If you don’t know the law, you are unable to effectively appeal.
6. If your attorney tells you that he or she can represent you during the investigation but is unable to “try” your case at an administrative hearing.
Representation only through the PCP hearing stage simply is not enough. An attorney should have sufficient knowledge, experience, and skill to represent you throughout the entire case. If he or she does not, and formal administrative charges are recommended by the PCP, you will then need to retain a completely new attorney who will need time, effort, and legal fees to learn your case in order to properly represent you.
Additionally only an attorney who has experience in litigation cases against the DOH and your professional board will have the credibility and experience to negotiate the most favorable deal for you if you later desire to settle the case.
Consult With An Experienced Health Law Attorney.
We routinely provide deposition coverage to registered nurses (RNs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nurse midwives and nurse practitioners and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases.
The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing registered nurses (RNs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nurse midwives and nurse practitioners in investigations at Board of Nursing hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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