Appeals Court Upholds Medical Malpractice Law Changes
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On July 21, a state appeals court in Tallahassee upheld the constitutionality of a controversial change in Florida’s medical malpractice law. It ruled that some privacy rights are waived when patients pursue medical malpractice lawsuits. A federal appeals court last year also upheld the change in Florida’s law.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal resulted from a 2013 change in the medical malpractice law. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed the amendments to the laws after a lobbying dispute between groups like doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Ex Parte Communications Play a Major Role.
The disputes in whether the changes were constitutionally valid centered around what is known as “ex parte communications.” The amended statute allowed doctors being sued for malpractice (or their attorneys) to speak with the patients’ other physicians, whether the patient consents or not. The new law also requires patients to sign forms authorizing the release of medical information before filing malpractice claims.
Ex parte communications allow a patient’s personal health information be obtained and used in a case. Other doctors who have treated the patient could provide the information. Additionally, without the patient’s knowledge or the patient’s attorney present, a disclosure of medical information could occur.
This Ruling Stemmed From a 2013 Case in Escambia County.
In 2013, Emma Gayle Weaver of Escambia County, Florida wanted to file a medical-malpractice lawsuit against a physician. According to court documents, her concern was about the constitutionality of the ex parte provision of the law. She challenged having to disclose her medical information to the other physician she was suing in order to bring her case.
The challenge raised legal questions about privacy rights given to all citizens by the Florida Constitution. But the panel of appeal judges disagreed that the ex parte provision violates her privacy rights.
The appeal decision, written by Judge James Wolf, stated: “It is well-established in Florida and across the country that any privacy rights that might attach to a claimant’s medical information are waived once that information is placed at issue by filing a medical malpractice claim. Thus, by filing the medical malpractice lawsuit, the decedent’s medical condition is at issue.”
To read more about the Weaver v. Myers decision, click here.
Another Issue Was Addressed.
Another issue questioned whether the ex parte change violated the constitutional separation of powers. The contention dealt with whether the Legislature overstepped the role of the Florida Supreme Court. But the appeals court ruled that the change was not procedural but rather was “integral to the substantive pre-suit notice” requirements that are in the law and mandated before the filing of a medical malpractice case.
The Federal Appeals Court Also Said the Law Doesn’t Violate HIPAA.
Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ex parte change in a ruling that focused on whether the 2013 law violates the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which prevents disclose of personal medical information. The federal appeals court said the law did not violate HIPAA, a decision also cited in the First District Court of Appeal’s decision.
Do you agree the court’s ruling? Do you think this provision violates privacy rights? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
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Saunders, Jim. “Appeals court upholds waiver of privacy rights in malpractice cases.” (July 22, 2015). Palm Beach Post. From: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/florida-appeals-court-backs-controversial-medical-/nm48m/
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.
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