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Will a Death from COVID-19 be Considered “Accidental Death” for Life Insurance Policies or a Death from “Accidental Causes?”

Attorney George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Almost all life insurance policies, including term policies, pay a “double indemnity,” that is, double the limits of coverage if a death occurs from “accidental causes” as opposed to “natural causes.”  A question arises, given the COVID-19 pandemic, of whether a death caused by the novel corona versus would be considered a natural death or an accidental death.  Fortunately, there is some guidance on this issue.

One reason it is important to distinguish between “accidental death” and “natural death” is that:

There is no pandemic exclusion for life insurance.  General life insurance covers pandemics, assuming you were truthful about your travel plans and exposure to illness during the application process.  . . . .  An accidental death & dismemberment policy is more limited and covers deaths only when they’re accidental.  It generally doesn’t [usually] cover deaths caused by illness and disease.

Nat’l Ass’n of Ins. Comm’rs, COVID-19 & Ins. (2020), https://content.naic.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Insurance%20Brief%20-%20Covid-19%20and%20Insurance.pdf. (Emphasis added).

Definition of “Accidental Death”

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, an “accidental death” is defined as:  “A death that results from an unusual event, one that was not voluntary, intended, expected, or foreseeable.”  Accidental Death, Black’s Law Dictionary (4th pocket ed. 2011).  Likewise, Ballentine’s Law Dictionary states than an “accidental death” is:

One that occurs unforeseen, undesigned, and unexpected. 29 Am J Rev ed Ins § 1166.  One which occurs by accident, that is, was not designed or anticipated, albeit it may occur in consequence of a voluntary act.

Accidental Death, Ballentine’s Law Dictionary (3rd ed. 1969).

Under the above two definitions, definitions that are usually considered to come from the common law, death from the COVID-19 virus would be considered to be an “accidental death.”

Look to State Insurance Laws for Definitions.

One should also immediately look at the state’s insurance statutes to see if their state’s law defines “accidental death” in terms of insurance coverage.  As an example, Florida law provides such definitions in Chapter 627 of Florida Statues which deals with insurance contracts.

Section 627.429(5)(c), Florida Statutes, is of particular note.  Regarding death from HIV, for example, it states:

Except for preexisting conditions specifically applying to sickness or medical condition of the insured, benefits under a life insurance policy shall not be denied or limited based on the fact that the insured’s death was caused, directly or indirectly, by exposure to the HIV infection or a specific sickness or medical condition derived from such infection. This paragraph does not prohibit the issuance of accidental death only or specified disease policies.

Section 627.429(5)(c), Florida Statutes (emphasis added).

This is significant because the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a very slow-acting disease that harms one’s immune system by destroying the white blood cells that fight infection.  Death may not occur for years, even decades from an infection.  Whereas, COVID-19 is a fast-acting respiratory virus.  If death from HIV could be considered an “accidental death,” than death from COVID-19 certainly could be classified as “accidental death,” as well.


Legal Arguments for “Accidental Death”

If you have a death in your family and there is life insurance coverage on that person, you should not accept the insurance company’s determination that the death is from “natural causes” as opposed to “accidental death.” Challenge this decision, in court, if necessary.

A death caused by the COVID-19 virus is clearly “from an unusual event.”  I doubt that anyone would even contest this issue.  It is also clearly “one that was not voluntary, intended, [or] expected.”  Again, the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken the world by surprise.  How can anyone in their right mind argue that it was truly “expected.”  “Foreseeable” would be an objective test as to whether this was something “reasonably foreseeable.”  It does not appear, from the shock and unreadiness displayed by state and national governments and health officials, that this event was truly reasonably foreseeable.

I did not foresee it, did you?  If 99.999% of the populace did not foresee it, how can it be argued that it is reasonably foreseeable?  At the very least, this is a jury question and the foregoing should be argued to the jury.  If the average reasonable man (the man who is a legal fiction) did not foresee this pandemic and the deaths that result, how can it not be an “accidental death”?  It seems that any jury would be hard-pressed to find other than an “accidental death.”

 
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals.  This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical student professors and clinical staff. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at 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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) Allowed to Terminate a Resident For Almost Any Reason

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Currently, Florida law and regulations allow an assisted living facility (ALF) to relocate or terminate a resident for almost any reason. However, the administrator must provide a 45-day notice and document the reason for termination or relocation.

Section 429.28(k), Florida Statutes (2011), states that an ALF resident must receive:

At least 45 days’ notice of relocation or termination of residency from the facility unless, for medical reasons, the resident is certified by a physician to require an emergency relocation to a facility providing a more skilled level of care or the resident engages in a pattern of conduct that is harmful or offensive to other residents. In the case of a resident who has been adjudicated mentally incapacitated, the guardian shall be given at least 45 days’ notice of a nonemergency relocation or residency termination. Reasons for relocation shall be set forth in writing. In order for a facility to terminate the residency of an individual without notice as provided herein, the facility shall show good cause in a court of competent jurisdiction.

A reason for termination or relocation can be as broad as “the patient isn’t happy here,” as long as a reason is given.

To view Chapter 429, Florida Statutes, which details Florida law relating to assisted living facilities, click here.

In Florida, assisted living facilities are licensed and regulated by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Although there have been consumer complaints and lobbying to change the law, at the present time the ALF is at liberty to do this. No hearing or other rights are required by law.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Assisted Living Facility Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Crochet, Jim. “ALF Residents Lack Protection.” Miami Herald. (April 2, 2012). From: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/02/2723745/alf-residents-lack-protection.html

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.

Trial Court Must Hold Evidentiary Hearing to Determine Disputed Facts in Public Records Act Suit

10 Indest-2008-7Edited by George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in the Legal Specialty of Health Law

An interesting summary of a Florida appellate case from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently came across my desk. Florida has a very broad Public Records Act and Sunshine Act. We are often involved in suing state agencies for force disclosure of documents and information.

The following is from a summary that was originally published in the newsletter of the Florida Bar’s Administrative Law Section.

Clay Cnty. Ed. Ass’n u. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 144 So. 3d 708 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014).

After requesting various public records related to the Clay County School Board’s operation, and receiving only some of the responsive documents, the Clay County Education Association (CCEA) filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the circuit court to compel production of the records. In unsworn defenses to the complaint, the school board stated that it had already produced the documents, did not have the information in the requested format, or that the requested documents did not exist. The circuit court granted the school board’s motion to dismiss the complaint, and the CCEA appealed.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed, finding that CCEA’s petition for writ of mandamus was legally sufficient. The complaint alleged a violation of a clear legal right and breach of an indisputable legal duty, thereby showing a prima facie basis for relief.

The appellate court also concluded that the circuit court erred by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed issues of fact, which CCEA requested. The school board’s defenses likewise created issues of fact that should have been grounds for a priority bearing under section 119.01, Florida Statutes.

Additional Comments.

This case is important for several reasons. It took place in the First District Court of Appeal. Since most Florida agencies are located in Tallahassee, most Public Records Act cases are filed there. Additionally this shows that the Florida Appellate Courts will require trial courts to actually have evidentiary hearings and trials when there are facts in contention between the parties, which is good for citizens.

Contact The Health Law Firm Attorneys Experienced in Administrative Law.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent clients in administrative and civil litigation (both state and federal) throughout the state and in other states as permitted by their rules. We also represent clients in cases involving the Florida Public Records Act, the Sunshine Act, the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act. Our attorneys are available to provide emergency hearing coverage, administrative hearing representation, emergency board representation (Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Nursing, Board of Osteopathic Medicine, Board of Pharmacy, Board of Psychology, Board of Licensed Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy & Mental Health Counseling and other professional boards), as well as the Agency for Health Care Administration, emergency deposition coverage and other litigation coverage on short notice. Should you need local counsel or just coverage for a hearing or deposition, we are available; contact us.

Source: The original case summary discussed above was originally published in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Dec. 2014), a publication of The Administrative Law Section of the Florida Bar.

 

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.
Copyright © 1999-2015 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Orlando-based Assisted Living Facilities Appeal ALJ Decision, Win Case Against AHCA

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Two related assisted living facilities (ALFs) based in Orlando won a case against the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) on appeal. The First District Court of Appeal heard the case and filed an opinion in favor of the ALFs on November 30, 2011.

 To view the opinion in this case, click here.

Appeals Court Dismissed Three Complaints Made by AHCA.

On appeal, the ALFs challenged a final order issued by AHCA. The amended final order revoked the ALFs’ licenses, denied their licensure renewal applications, and imposed administrative fines. 

After conducting an investigation, AHCA filed a four count administrative complaint. The court of appeal dismissed AHCA’s conclusion that the first three counts were proven. The appeal court dismissed these counts because they consisted of uncorroborated hearsay.

AHCA Alleged ALFs’ Owners Operated Third Facility Without a Valid License.

The fourth count against the ALFs alleged that the ALFs’ owners/administrators operated a third Florida facility without obtaining a valid license or qualifying for a license exemption. The ALFs argued that AHCA failed to present any witness at the administrative hearing who had first-hand knowledge that the facility in question was providing personal services “for a period of 24 hours to one or more adults who are not relatives of the owner or administrator.” These are material elements of the statutory definition of assisted living facility that AHCA was required to prove.

AHCA Offered Testimony from the ALFs’ Employees at Administrative Hearing.

At the administrative hearing, AHCA offered testimony from an employee who worked at the third facility from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. She testified that the facility had five or six residents when she worked there for six weeks in Summer 2009. She said that she never saw a resident leave the facility at the end of the day or arrive in the morning.

In the recommended order, the administrative law judge (ALJ) found that there was no evidence presented by the ALFs that the residents were transported to another location at night. Click here to view the recommended order.

Court of Appeal Rules ALJ Improperly Shifted the Burden of Proof, Reverses Final Order.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled that the ALJ improperly shifted the burden of proof to the ALFs. The burden was misplaced when the ALJ suggested that the ALFs should have provided proof that the residents were transported out of the facility during the night. According to the court of appeal, it was AHCA’s burden to establish that the facility was an unlicensed ALF. Furthermore, the court ruled that the testimony offered by AHCA did not foreclose the possibility that these residents were at the facility for periods less than 24 hours. Therefore, the court ruled that AHCA did not meet its burden of proof. The final order was reversed.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Assisted Living Facilities.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Smallwood, Mary F. “Adjudicatory Proceedings.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

LeadingAge Florida. “Florida Supreme Court Requested to Hear ALF Case.” LeadingAge Florida. (2012). From: http://www.fahsa.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=96

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.

Recent Appellate Court Case Emphasizes The Public’s Right to Records Under Public Records Act

IndestBy: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law

The following is a summary of a recent appellate case on an issue that may be relevant to those pursuing administrative hearings in health law cases or related cases:

Promenade D’Iberville v Sundy, 145 So. 3d. 980 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014)

After receiving a public records request from Promenade D’Iberville, LLC (Promenade), with whom the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) was in active litigation in Mississippi, the JEA filed a motion for protective order in the Mississippi court to circumvent the request. The JEA eventually turned over the requested records, but only after two months had passed and Promenade was forced to file an action for the public records.

The appellate court framed the issue as whether the JEA had violated the public records law by withholding requested non-exempt public records. The court noted that, as a general rule, governmental entities in Florida are broadly responsible to make public records available to all who request them. The JEA did not argue that any statutory exemption excused its obligation to make the requested documents available. Rather, the JEA delayed making the records available pending a ruling on its Mississippi motion, even though the pending litigation was not grounds for a public records exemption. Thus, the appellate court concluded, the JEA violated the public records law by delaying Promenade’s access to non-exempt public records for legally insufficient reasons.

Moreover, the appellate court concluded that JEA’s delayed production of records did not “cure” its unjustified delay. Only justified delay is permissible, such as to determine whether such records exist or due to a relief that some or all of the requested records are exempt from disclosure. Unjustified delay violates Florida public records law. Where there is unjustified delay to the point of forcing a requester to file a law suit that, alone, is “tantamount to an unlawful refusal to provide public records in violation of the Act.”
The case summary above was originally published in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Vol, 34, No. 2 (Dec 2014), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of the Florida Bar.


Blog Editor’s Comments:

Florida has a very broad Public Records Act, codified in Chapter 119, Florida Statutes. It entitles Florida residents to obtain copies of most records kept by state agencies (with certain exceptions, of course).

If a state agency denies a person’s request improperly, that person may sue the agency. If successful, the person is awarded attorney’s fees and costs incurred in bringing the litigation.


Comments?

Do you think that governmental entities in Florida are responsible to make public records available to all who request them? Do you agree/disagree that Unjustified delay violates Florida public records law? Do you think a person should be able to sue state agency if their request is denied improperly? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in academic disputes, graduate medical education (GME) hearings, contract negotiations, license applications, board certification applications and hearings, credential hearings, and civil and administrative litigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at: 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 Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.


KeyWords:
Appellate, appellate court case, public records, Public Records Act, administrative hearing, administrative law, Unjustified delay, health law, health care law, health care law attorney, health law attorney, health care lawyer, health law lawyer, Florida health law attorney, administrative law attorney, defense attorney, defense lawyer

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.
Copyright © 1996-2015 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Have You Updated Your Address with the Department of Health?

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A recent case involving the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) demonstrates how important it is for all professional licensees, including Department of Health (DOH) licensees, to immediately update their addresses with the licensing agency when there is change.

Appellant in Recent Case Filed an Appeal to Reverse Revokation of His  License Application.

In Griffis v. Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the appellant filed an appeal of the DBPR’s order revoking two of his licenses. The order also imposed a fine and ordered the appellant to pay restitution to a customer. The order was rendered on January 26, 2010. The appellant did not file his notice of appeal until October 15, 2010, over nine months later.

Court Dismissed Appeal As Untimely.

The First District Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal as untimely. The limitations period for the filing of a notice of appeal of an administrative action is jurisdictional. Because the notice of appeal was not filed within 30 days of rendition, the untimely filing precluded the court from exercising jurisdiction over the appeal. To view the opinion, click here.

Appellant Argued Late Filing Should Be Excused Because He Was Incarcerated.

The appellant argued that his late filing should be excused. According to the appellant, he did not learn of the final order until October 2010 because he was incarcerated at the time the order was issued. The Department did not send the order to the state correctional facility where the appellant was located, but rather to the address the appellant had on file with the Department.

Court Ruled Appellant’s Reason for Late Filing Was Unacceptable.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled that the appellant’s failure to timely file his notice of appeal could not be excused due to his incarceration. According to the court, as a licensee of the Department, the appellant had a statutory duty to keep the Department informed of his correct current mailing address. Having failed to do so, the appellant could not then complain that the Department failed to provide him with notice of entry of the order and of his time limit for appealing the order. Section 455.275(2), Florida Statutes, states:

Service by regular mail to a licensee’s last known address of record with the department constitutes adequate and sufficient notice to the licensee for any official communication to the licensee by the board or the department except where other service is required pursuant to s. 455.225.

Health Professionals Must Update Addresses With All Relevant Departments to Avoid Untimely Filing.

All health providers who maintain a license with the DOH and all other Florida agencies  must update their addresses with the agency when there is a change. If an incorrect address is on file, a health provider risks losing the right to timely respond to an investigation or file an appeal. 

A correct address is also important so as to be able to receive communications from the agency such as important regulatory changes, as well as notices of required filings, proposed actions, proposed fines, etc. In addition, failing to maintain a correct address with the DOH or other agencies could lead to an additional charge of failure to carry out a statutory duty. This also applies to Medicare providers, who can risk termination of their Medicare number or billing privileges if they do not update each of their addresses (e.g., mailing address, physical address of practice, payment address, etc.) on file with Medicare as soon as there is a change. For more information on this, please see our previous blog post.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Department of Health and Other Agency Administrative Actions.

If you have been notified of an investigation or an adverse action taken against your license by the DOH or other agency, it is imperative that you file all documents and appeals in a timely manner. An experienced health law attorney will be able to assist you in submitting all necessary materials by the deadline.

The Health Law Firm represents all health providers in legal matters involving the DOH, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing, Board of Pharmacy, Board of Dentistry, Medicare and Medicaid programs, and other administrative agencies.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Griffis v. Department of Business and Professional Regulations. 69 So. 3d 958 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012)

Smallwood, Mary F. “Appeals.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

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.

Appeal Court Rules AHCA Was Justified in Withdrawing Home Health Agency’s License Application

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The First District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) had substantial justification to withdraw a home health agency’s application for licensure in a recent case. To view the opinion, click here.

Home Health Agency Challenged AHCA’s Decision to Withdraw Application.

AHCA withdrew the home health care facility’s license application because the application allegedly contained insufficient information. The application did not provide enough information for AHCA to verify actual ownership of the facility.

The home health agency challenged AHCA’s decision. The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that AHCA incorrectly withdrew the application. According to the ALJ, the application was complete, and the home health agency met all the requirements for licensure at the time the application was submitted. To view the recommended order, click here.

Home Health Agency Awarded Attorney’s Fees by ALJ.

After receiving this favorable order, the home health agency moved for attorney’s fees pursuant to section 57.111(4)(a), Fla. Stat. The home health agency argued that AHCA had no justification for withdrawing its license application. At a separate hearing, the ALJ awarded attorney’s fees to the home health care facility.

Appeal Court Reverses ALJ’s Ruling.

AHCA appealed this decision. On its license application, the home health agency had allegedly claimed that one person had sole ownership of the facility. However, a letter informing AHCA of litigation contesting the sole ownership claim was included with the license application. According to the court of appeal, given the uncertainty the home health agency created concerning its ownership, there was substantial justification for AHCA’s action. The ALJ’s ruling was reversed by the court of appeal.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Home Health Agency Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent home health agencies and home health agency employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Agency for Health Care Administration v. MVP Health, Inc. 74 So. 3d 1141 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011)

Smallwood, Mary F. “Attorney’s Fees.” Administrative Law Section Newsletter. (Apr. 2012).

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.

Advice for All Massage Therapists: Please Talk to a Lawyer Before You Talk to the Department of Health (DOH) Investigator

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Massage therapists, I beseech you: please do not talk to a Department of Health (DOH) investigator until you have talked to a health lawyer who is experienced with DOH investigations and board licensing complaints.  Do not answer or respond to even the most basic questions about where you work now, what your address is or if you know patient x, until consulting with counsel.

Admitting to Anything May Hurt Your Case.

We are routinely consulted by massage therapists and other healthcare providers for representation after they have discussed the case and after it is too late to undo the damage they have caused to themselves. Often they do not understand the seriousness of the matter or the possible consequences, until it is too late. Admitting to even the most basic facts causes damage to any possible defense.

Administrative Licensure Investigations are “Semi-Criminal.”

The vast majority of massage therapists and even most attorneys do not realize that DOH investigations concerning complaints against a massage therapist’s license are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” proceedings.  This means the same laws and constitutional rights apply to them as apply to criminal investigations.  However, since they are also administrative proceedings and not strictly criminal proceedings, investigators do not need to advise you of your Miranda rights or tell you you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, etc.

In any criminal investigation a good criminal defense attorney would always tell you “Do not talk to the investigator” and “Tell the investigator you have a lawyer.”

How Investigators Try to Get You to Not Talk to an Attorney.

DOH investigators, police investigators, FBI investigators and other law enforcement officers, are well trained in investigative techniques and how to get information out of suspects.  Often the approach used is to catch you by surprise before you even know there is an investigation and the investigation is of you.  Another technique used is to lull you into a false sense of security that the investigation is about someone or something else and not you.  Another investigative technique is to convince you that you need to “Tell your side of the story” so that the investigation is accurate.  Yet another is that “Things will go much better for you if you cooperate.”  None of these things are true.

However, if it is truly in your best interest to cooperate or to make a statement, after you consult with your attorney, your legal counsel will surely advise you to do this.  The investigator should not mind waiting until you consult your attorney.  However, many will go to extremes to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and shouldn’t get an attorney.

Consult an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in dealing with DOH investigators, AHCA surveyors, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, police and sheriff’s office investigators, OIG special agents (S/As) and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators. 

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at 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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

“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.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Nabs New York Doctor Allegedly on Drug Charges

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on November 27, 2012, at a New York home led to the arrest of an emergency room (ER) doctor, according to a number of sources. Once inside, agents allegedly found crack cocaine, crack pipes, needles and other drug paraphernalia belonging to the doctor. It’s reported by The Buffalo News that the raid came just as the alleged drug abuser was getting ready to smoke a crack cocaine pipe.

Click here to read the entire article from The Buffalo News.

DEA Agents Allegedly Wanted to Work Quickly on This Case.

According to a press release from the DEA, the doctor had been under investigation for weeks. Agents wanted to work quickly on this case since they knew the doctor worked at a number of hospitals in Niagara County, New York.

The press release states DEA agents stopped a vehicle driven by the doctor’s female companion and caught her in possession of crack cocaine. The woman told agents that she purchased the drugs for the ER doctor, and that they were going to use them that night. The DEA obtained a search warrant and raided the doctor’s house the same night.

To read the entire press release from the DEA, click here.

Charges Stemming from Possession. 

Bond for the doctor has been set at $5,000. Possessing crack cocaine carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

As in all media reports, please remember that all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with DEA Cases.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, pharmacists, pharmacies, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH), and other law enforcement agencies.

If you are aware of an investigation of you or your practice, or if you have been contacted by the DEA or DOH, contact an experienced health law attorney immediately.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think about this story? Is there an industry-wide problem with health providers abusing drugs? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Herbeck, Dan. “DEA Raid Ends with ER Doctor in Trouble Over Crack Cocaine.” The Buffalo News. (November 28, 2012). From: http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121128/CITYANDREGION/121129271/1003

Guggenmos, Emily. “ER Doctor Faces Crack Cocaine Charge.” WIVB. (November 29, 2012). From: http://www.wivb.com/dpp/news/crime/er-doctor-faces-crack-cocaine-charge

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Physician Charged with Possessing Crack Cocaine.” DEA New York City Division. (November 28, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/dea/divisions/nyc/2012/nyc112812a.shtml

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.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

How to Prepare for an Informal Hearing Before the Florida Board of Psychology

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M. Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Psychology, there are a number of facts that you will want to know in order to be properly prepared. This article will cover many of them.

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing.

First, you should understand that you will only be at an informal hearing in which you appear before the Board of Psychology itself for a very limited number of reasons. These will include the following:

1. If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.

2. If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.

3. You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

There are a few other circumstances in which there may be an informal hearing before the Board, such as motions to modify a final order, motion to lift a suspension of a license, appearance in accordance with an earlier order, petition for a declaratory statement, or other administrative matters. This article only discusses those directly relating to disciplinary action as indicated above.

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not.

1. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

3. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem. These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing.

If you desire to contest the facts alleged against you then you must state this in writing. If the material facts in a case are challenged by you, then the Board or the Department of Health (DOH) (note: all professional boards are under the Department of Health in Florida) must forward your case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) where a neutral, objective administrative law judge (ALJ) will be appointed to hold a formal hearing in your case. This is the only way that exists for you to prove that the facts alleged against you are incorrect or that you are not guilty of the charges made against you. In fact, you do not even have to do anything in such a case. The Department of Health has the burden of proof and it has to prove the charges against you and the material facts alleged against you by clear and convincing evidence. Often, it is unable to do this at a formal administrative hearing.

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings. You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have. We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.
What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

If you have been scheduled for an informal administrative hearing and you decide that you do desire to challenge the material facts alleged against you in the administrative complaint (AC), file a written objection to proceeding at the informal hearing. State that you have discovered that there are material facts that you do desire to challenge and that you desire that the proceedings be converted to a formal hearing. File this with the Clerk of the administrative agency you are before (usually the department of health or the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and also send a copy to the opposing attorney and the executive director of the Board. Do this as early as possible and keep proof that you have actually and filed the written request.

If you are already at the informal hearing when you discover this, object to the proceedings on the record and ask to have the informal hearing be converted to a formal hearing where you may contest the material facts. State this as many times as reasonably possible.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing.

Since you are not contesting the facts alleged against you, if you are going to an informal hearing be sure you do the following:

1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held. Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held. You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.

2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled. This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out). Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.

3. Dress professionally for the appearance. This may be the most important event in your professional career. For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie. For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order. Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date. Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.

4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice. Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule. Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.

5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly. You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.

6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper. This is not the time or place to let this happen. If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.

7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation. However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these. In effect, you have pleaded guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.

8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board). These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc. You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file. This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.

9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions. If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.

10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future. Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.

11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings. Often your professional liability insurance will cover this. If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings. You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense. If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium.

Other Little known Facts to Remember.

Professional licensing matters are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature. Therefore, you have your Fifth Amendment rights in relation to being required to give evidence against yourself. You cannot be compelled to do this in such matters. However, since it is an administrative proceeding and not a criminal proceeding, there is no requirement that the licensee be advised of this by a DOH investigator or attorney.

If you enter into a settlement agreement and attend the informal hearing to approve it, nothing you say or testify to at this hearing can later be used against you. This is because you are involved in an attempt to negotiate and settle (or compromise) the claims being made against you. It is a general rule of law that nothing the parties say in such settlement proceedings can later be used as evidence if the settlement agreement is not approved. The law tries to promote settlements among parties to any dispute in this way.

It is true that on occasion the Board will examine a case on an informal hearing and will decide to dismiss it. This is rare, but it does happen. Sometimes, it will be a tactical decision on the part of you and your attorney to elect to go to an informal hearing with the hope that the Board may examine the case and decide to dismiss it. However, you cannot count on this happening.

Don’t Wait Too Late; Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney Early.

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters. Few cases are won on appeal. It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare and you have requested a formal hearing so that you may actually dispute the facts being alleged against you.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing psychologists in investigations and at Board of Psychology 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.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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