New Jersey Appeals Court Says Plaintiffs Don’t Need Presuit Affidavits to Sue LPNs in Medical Malpractice Cases

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

In a possibly precedent-setting case, on November 9, 2022, for the first time, an appeals court in New Jersey ruled that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases do not need an affidavit of merit to file claims against a licensed practical nurse (LPNs). The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, said that an LPN is not included in the “licensed person” definition under the state’s affidavit of merit statute.

Additionally, the court’s ruling stated that an LPN could not use the absence of such an affidavit to avoid a medical malpractice suit. In this case, the malpractice suit was brought by a widower who says his wife died as a result of bad medical advice given by her LPN.

Allegations Made in the Lawsuit.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant (an LPN) responded to his complaints about his wife being in pain and unable to eat following her colon surgery by blaming the issue on “post-operative gas.” After allegedly ignoring numerous messages he left regarding her condition, the LPN allegedly told the husband to give his wife, Pepto Bismol. The following day, his wife died, according to the lawsuit.

In July 2020, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim on behalf of himself as the administrator of his wife’s estate. The lawsuit originally named the doctor, Virtua Surgical Group, and an unknown nurse. Following discovery, the plaintiff dismissed the claims against the doctor and Virtua Surgical Group, and proceeded against only the LPN. According to the opinion, the plaintiff alleged that the LPN was negligent in providing medical advice and in failing to consult with her doctor.

You can view the court’s opinion in full here on our website.

Is a Licensed Practical Nurse a “Licensed Person” Covered by the AOM Statute?

In New Jersey professional negligence cases, plaintiffs must file an “affidavit of merit,” or AOM, signed by a licensed medical professional, before they are allowed to sue those [professionals for malpractice. This results from a tort reform package passed by the state government in 1995.

Why there hasn’t been a case similar to this one, or lobbying by LPNs to sew up the legal “loophole” before now, is unclear.

Like many similar state statutes passed around the same time, the New Jersey statute was designed to balance between reducing frivolous lawsuits and permitting injured plaintiffs recovery for meritorious claims. According to the court’s decision, a plaintiff claiming “malpractice or negligence by a licensed person” must file an “affidavit of an appropriate licensed person” who can attest that there is a “reasonable probability” that defendant’s conduct “fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices.”

The defendant in this case argued that since the nursing portion of the statute defines “the practice of nursing” for “a registered professional nurse,” the Legislature intended for licensed practical nurses to be included. However, the New Jersey appeals court held that the tort reform package would not protect the LPN from the lawsuit because she was a different kind of nurse from a registered nurse.

In his written opinion for the court, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Robert J. Gilson considered whether a licensed practical nurse is a “licensed person” covered under the AOM statute. “The AOM statute expressly uses the term ‘a registered professional nurse.’ Yet, nowhere in that definition of a registered professional nurse is there a reference to a licensed practical nurse,” he added.

Gilson stated in the court’s opinion that the Legislature was aware that it had separately defined the two types of nurses. In other words, if it had wanted to protect LPNs at the same time as it was protecting RNs, it could have done so. Therefore, the plaintiff was allowed to pursue claims without an AOM. However, the plaintiff would still be required to prove the defendant’s negligence to succeed.

Click here to view the opinion in full.

Click here to read one of our related blogs about legal issues LPNs often face.

Who Is a “Professional” and What Is “Malpractice”?

“Malpractice” is usually defined as the negligence of or the breach of a professional duty by a professional. In other words, professional negligence.

How do we determine who is a “professional” then? The simple rule of thumb is that anyone who is required to have a license in order to perform his or her occupation is a professional. Thus, under this definition, we have attorneys, dentists, accountants, architects, engineers, funeral directors, teachers, all are required to have licenses, depending upon what state they are in. Thus there can be accounting malpractice, engineering malpractice, architectural malpractice and, yes, even legal malpractice. Under this definition, a licensed practical nurse would be considered a professional who could commit nursing malpractice.

However, if the wording of law limits coverage to only certain listed professions, and other professions are left out, then only the ones specifically listed will be covered by its application.

Is the Decision Limited or Possibly Widespread?

The decision appears to be a correct one based on the wording of the New Jersey statute. If “licensed practical nurses” was not a category of licensed professionals included by the Legislature in the New Jersey statute, then the courts should not “read them into” coverage by the statute. Unfortunately, this was probably merely an oversight on the part of whatever bill drafter and committee proposed the legislation in the first place. Licensed practical nurses and their professional associations should immediately lobby the Legislature of New Jersey to have the “loophole” filled.

Whether similar results are possible in other states will depend on the wording of the similar laws in those states. For example, Florida has a somewhat similar statute, but it does not actually name the specific category of medical provider covered by the act (e.g., “medical doctor,” “chiropractor”). Instead, the Florida Law, Section 766.202, Florida Statutes, refers to those covered by the medical malpractice statute as “any person licensed under part I of chapter 464, Florida Statutes. . . .[etc.]” Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and advanced nurse practitioners are all licensed under that part and chapter of the Florida law. So a problem similar to the one in New Jersey never arises.

Contact Health Law Attorneys With Experience Representing Nurses and Handling Licensing Issues.

If you are applying for a nursing or healthcare license, have had a license suspended or revoked, or are facing imminent action against your license, you must contact an experienced healthcare attorney to assist you in defending your career. Remember, your license is your livelihood; it is not recommended that you pursue these matters without the assistance of an attorney. The Health Law Firm routinely represents nurses, physicians, dentists, medical groups, clinics, and other healthcare providers in personal and facility licensing issues.

To contact The Health Law Firm, call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Karpan, Andrew. “No Affidavit Needed To Sue ‘Practical’ Nurses, NJ Court Says.” Law360. (November 9, 2022). Web.

Murphy, Colleen. “NJ Appeals Court: No Affidavit of Merit Needed for Negligence Claim Against Licensed Practical Nurse.” Law.com. (November 10, 2022). Web.

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., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030

“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 © 2023 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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The Collateral Effects of a Criminal Case on a Health Care Licensee

Criminal charges against a health care professional can have serious consequences. Learn more about the impact of a criminal charge on Florida licensed health professionals. For further information, visit our website.

What is the Effect of a Plea of Nolo Contendere for a Florida Licensed Health Professional?

Pursuant to the general chapter of Florida Statutes applicable to all licensed health professionals (Chapter 456), a plea of nolo contendere is treated the same as a plea of guilty for all purposes.  Additionally the chapter of Florida Statutes that governs each type of health professional usually contains similar provisions;  sometimes this will be in the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Rules that have been adopted by the separate professional licensing board for that profession.

What Is the Effect of an Adjudication or Finding of Adjudication Withheld?

Pursuant to the general chapter of Florida Statutes applicable to all licensed health professionals (Chapter 456), an adjudication or finding of adjudication withheld (or “adjudication deferred” in some jurisdictions) is treated the same as a finding of guilty for all purposes.  Additionally the chapter of Florida Statutes that governs each type of health professional usually contains similar provisions;  sometimes this will be in the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Rules that have been adopted by the separate professional licensing board for that profession.

When must a Licensed Health Professional Report Guilty Pleas (Nolo Plea or Guilty Plea) and Convictions (Adjudication Withheld or Finding of Guilty) to the Florida Department of Health?

Any guilty plea (as defined above as a nolo plea or guilty plea) or any adjudication of guilt (as defined above as adjudication withheld or finding of guilty) of any crime must be reported  by the health professional to his or her professional licensing board (or the Department of Health when there is no board) within thirty (30) days of the conviction or finding.  Section 456.072(1)(x), Florida Statutes.

In Florida, all health professionals licensed or regulated under Chapter 456 of Florida Statutes, are required to report to their professional board (or the Florida Department of Health if there is no professional board in their profession) any convictions or findings of guilty of criminal offenses, in any jurisdiction.  Unfortunately, pursuant to Florida Statutes, a plea of nolo contendere must be reported just as a plea of guilty to an offense (a plea of not guilty does not need to be reported).  A finding of guilty or a finding of adjudication withheld (also called a “withhold” or “deferred adjudication” in some jurisdictions) must also be reported (a finding of not guilty, a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, pretrial diversion or pretrial intervention program in almost all cases dose not have to be reported).

Licensed practitioners who also are required to have a profile with the Department of Health (e.g., physicians licensed under Chapters 458, 459, 460 or 461), must submit an update to their profile, including criminal convictions, within fifteen (15) days of the “final activity that renders such information a fact.”  Section 456.042, Florida Statutes.

For example, a doctor of medicine (M.D.), licensed pursuant to chapter 458, Florida Statutes, must submit an update to the physician’s profile within fifteen (15) days.  A registered respiratory therapist, on the other hand, doesn’t have a profile.  The registered respiratory therapist would have to report  a matter qualifying with the above within thirty (30) days to his or her board, the Board of Respiratory Care.  (A finding of not guilty, a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, pretrial diversion or pretrial intervention program in almost all cases dose not have to be reported).

As with any such important legal matter, we recommend reporting in a typed, professional letter, via a reliable method of delivery which provides tracking and delivers you a receipt.  We do not consider e-mail to be reliable or susceptible of verification or tracking.  We usually recommend reporting such matters via U.S. Express Mail, with a return receipt requested.  Be sure to keep copies of the correspondence, the receipt of mailing and the return receipt, to document reporting and delivery dates, and to prove receipt.

Always consult the latest versions of the Florida Statutes and the Rules of the Department of Health and your professional board to make sure you have the correct information.  We recommend retaining a health attorney familiar with the Department of Health and its regulatory processes, as such a report will usually require the Department of Health to commence an investigation of the health professional, even if the health professional is located in another state.

Which Crimes May Result in an Automatic Bar to Licensure?

Senate Bill 1984, effective July 1, 2009, amended various section of Florida Statutes, including sections of Chapter 456.  These amendments prohibit the Department of Health from granting a new license to or granting the renewal of a license to a health professional because of a guilty plea or conviction of certain offenses.  This is also grounds for revocation of the health professional’s license.

Generally, as set forth in Section 456.0635(2)(a), Florida Statutes these are:

Being convicted of, or entering a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, a felony under:

    • Chapter 409 (the Medicaid Program)
    • Chapter 817 (Fraud)
    • Chapter 893 (Drugs)
    • 21 U.S.C. Sects. 801-970 (Food and Drugs);  or
    • 42 U.S.C. Sects. 1395-1396 (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security)

unless the sentence and any subsequent period of probation for such conviction or pleas ended more than 15 years prior to the date of the application.  (Sect. 456.0635(2)(a), Fla. Stat.)

Additionally, grounds for discipline against the existing license of health professional includes:

    • Any misdemeanor or felony relating to Medicaid fraud:  “Being convicted of, or entering a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to, any misdemeanor or felony, regardless of adjudication, under 18 U.S.C. Sect. 669, Sects. 285-287, Sect. 371, Sect. 1001, Sect. 1035, Sect. 1341, Sect. 1343, Sect. 1347, Sect. 1349, or Sect. 1518, or 42 U.S.C. Sects. 1320a-7b, relating to the Medicaid program.”  (Sect. 456.072(1)(ii), Fla. Stat.
    • Being convicted of, or entering a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to, any misdemeanor or felony, regardless of adjudication, a crime in any jurisdiction which relates to health care fraud.  (Sect. 456.072(1)(ll), Fla. Stat.

Defense Strategies and Avoidances

    • Plead to some offense or offenses other than the ones listed above.
    • Avoid a felony conviction;  misdemeanors do not prohibit licensure or renewal, but may result in disciplinary action.
    • Avoid any offenses that sound like “health fraud,” “Medicaid fraud” or “Medicare fraud.”
    • Violations of other states’ laws don’t count;  just Florida’s and federal listed above (caveat).
    • Attempt to obtain pre-trial diversion, pre-trial intervention or drug court.
    • Attempt to avoid having to enter a guilty plea or nolo plea.
    • Attempt to include in settlement agreement/plea bargain agreement/stipulation that client may apply to have record sealed immediately upon completion of requirements and State will not object.
    • Advise client to immediately apply for sealing of record when all requirements of probation are met.
    • Obtain input from a board certified health lawyer or other “expert” as to the disproportionate effect (all of the collateral consequences) that a “conviction” may have on the licensed health professional.

What Are the Collateral Effects of “Conviction” of above Offenses?

  1. A case involving an arrest or a conviction involving alcohol abuse (DUI/public Intoxication) or drugs (possession, diversion, theft, trafficking) will probably result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) until entire licensure case is complete.
  2. Client may be required to be evaluated and probably enrolled in the Impaired Nurses Program (IPN) (for nurses only) or the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (for all other licensed health professionals), which is usually at least a five year contract.
  3. Action to revoke, suspend or take other action against the clinical privileges and medical staff membership of those licensed health professionals who may have such in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, skilled nursing facility, or staff model HMO or clinic.  This will usually be physicians, physician assistants (PAs), advance registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), podiatrists, clinical psychologists and clinical pharmacists.
  4. Mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) (Note:  Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently folded into NPDB) which remains there for 50 years.
  5. Must be reported to and included in the DOH profile that is available to the public online (for those having one), and remains for at least ten years.
  6. Any other states or jurisdictions in which the client has a license will also initiate action against him or her in that jurisdiction.  (Note:  I have had two clients who had licenses in seven other states).
  7. The OIG of HHS will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program.  If this occurs (and most of these offense require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the HHS OIG.
  8. If the above occurs, the provider is also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting and is placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) debarment list.
  9. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will act to revoke the professional’s DEA registration if he or she has one.
  10. The certified health professional’s certify organization will act to revoke his or her certification.
  11. Third party payors (health insurance companies, HMOs, etc.) will terminate the professional’s contract or panel membership with that organization.
  12. Any profile maintained by a national organization or federation (e.g., American Medical Association physician profile or Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy profile) will include the conviction.
  13. Regardless of any of the above, any facility licensed by AHCA (hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), public health clinics, public health clinics, group homes for the developmentally disabled, etc.) that are required to perform background screenings on their employees will result in AHCA notifying the facility and the professional that he or she is disqualified from employment.

Nursing Professionals Cannot Afford to Not Carry Nursing Malpractice Insurance

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

Nurses: Please Protect Yourself With Professional Liability Insurance.

I am writing to strongly encourage you to purchase nursing professional liability insurance that covers you for complaints and investigations initiated against you and your nursing license.

I am not affiliated with any insurance company.  I am not receiving any commission, fee or reimbursement for writing this article.  My concern lies in the many, many nurses who contact our firm with Emergency Suspension Orders, Notices of Investigation, Administrative Complaints and Final Orders from the Department of Health, Board of Nursing, who do not have the funds to hire an attorney to defend themselves.

Employers Generally Do NOT Provide Legal Defense.

Many nurses mistakenly believe that their employer insures them for these types of events or that their employer will provide a legal defense.  In the vast majority of cases, this is false.  Often it is the employer that files the complaint against the nurse that causes the investigation.  If you are told your employer will cover you in such circumstances, ask for a letter in writing and signed by the employer stating that the employer will pay for your defense in any Department of Health investigation or subsequent administrative proceedings that arise out of your employment.  It is unlikely that you will get it.

You Will Need an Experienced Health Law Attorney to Help Navigate Department of Health Proceedings.

You need an experienced attorney to represent you in any sort of Department of Health complaint investigation from the very beginning.  The administrative law process is complex, especially when there is an Emergency Suspension Order or Administrative Complaint.  It is easy for a nonlawyer to be confused and to waive important legal rights that result in discipline on your license, requirements that cannot be met or the revocation of the nursing license.

For example, many nurses believe that if they elect an informal hearing, they will be allowed to go before the Board of Nursing and argue the facts of their case to their peers.  This is not true.  If you elect an informal hearing, you are admitting that all material facts stated against you in the Administrative Complaint are true (in effect you are pleading guilty).  You will only be allowed to argue about what discipline should be taken against you since you have admitted to the offense(s).  You have waived your right to a “formal hearing” where you are allowed to testify and introduce evidence to show you did not commit the offenses.

If you receive an Emergency Suspension Order and you believe you can successfully appeal it, you might be surprised.  Any such appeal is a formal legal appeal to a Florida District Court of Appeal (DCA).  This is a very formal procedure that only examines legal errors made by the Department of Health, Board of Nursing, in taking the action it took.  Furthermore, everything stated in the ESO is assumed to be true for the purpose of the appeal.  You are not allowed to dispute the facts stated in the ESO.

An appeal requires formal legal research and analysis, the preparation of legal briefs that comply with strict appellate rules of procedure.  Most nurses do not have a clue how to do this.  Even among attorneys, the practice of filing and arguing appeals is considered to be a legal specialty because of its complexity.

Additionally, there are other actions that an experienced health attorney may take, if you have an ESO or Final Order, that may be far more effective and expeditious to obtain relief for you than appealing it.

Regardless, if you do not have the money (usually $10,000 or more) or insurance coverage to retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you, you may have little hope of successfully defending yourself from untrue or unjust complaints, from preventing an undesirable result, or from obtaining relief from an ESO or Final Order.

Make Sure that Your Professional Liability Insurance Covers Professional Licensing Defense.

If you have professional liability insurance, make sure it includes legal defense coverage for professional licensing defense and other administrative proceedings in an amount of coverage of at least $25,000.00.  If it does not, you should be able to purchase a “rider” or additional coverage from that insurer for a small additional premium.  Also, attempt to obtain “broad form coverage” that will also pay for your legal defense costs for other types of regulatory and administrative proceedings such as:  a) an internal hospital/facility peer review proceeding; b) a Medicare or Medicaid audit or investigation; c) a Medicare medical quality assurance investigation or review; d) an EEOC discrimination or harassment complaint or investigation; e) an alleged HIPAA privacy violation; f) a hospital clinical privileges action (if you have privileges); g) action to exclude you from the Medicare or Medicaid Program; or h) action to suspend or revoke your DEA registration (if you have one).  There are some insurance companies that sell professional license defense and defense costs and expenses for other types of administrative proceedings as a stand-alone insurance policy.

At the very least, however, you should have the basic coverage to defend you in a complaint against your nursing license.

Research Your Insurer’s Policy on Attorney Selection.

You should also check with the insurance company before you purchase a policy to determine if the insurer will allow you to choose your own attorney in a licensure defense action.  Some insurers may require you to use the attorneys with whom they contract, removing your ability to make this decision.

Insurance Companies That Provide Professional License Defense Coverage for Nurses.

Insurance companies that we are aware provide professional license defense coverage for nurses, include the following:

Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Insurance

Proliability Insurance Co. (endorsed by the ANA)

NurseGuard Insurance from Granite State Insurance Company

Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance

CPH & Associates Insurance

MAG Mutual

The Chicago Insurance Company

Nursing Malpractice Insurance is a MUST for all Nurses.

Nursing malpractice insurance that contains professional licensure defense coverage is inexpensive and can be easily and quickly obtained online.  The premium payments for this type of insurance for an R.N. or L.P.N. is usually less than $250 per year.  Monthly payment plans are usually available.

We highly recommend that every nursing professional purchase it, even if you work for a hospital, the state or federal government, or in an administrative position.
Other Resources

Butler, T.: “Nurse’s Professional Liability Insurance,” LoveToKnow.com, at:
http://insurance.lovetoknow.com/Nurse%27s_Professional_Liability_Insurance

Chapman, D.:  “Professional Liability Insurance For Nurses – Important Facts,” (GoArticles.com,  Jan. 30, 2012) at:
http://goarticles.com/article/Professional-Liability-Insurance-For-Nurses-Important-Facts/6021710/

“Frequently Asked Questions about NP Liability Insurance” at:
http://www.acnpweb.org/i4a/pages/Index.cfm?pageID=3468

MacKay, T.:  “Worried About a Malpractice Lawsuit? The Board of Nurses Should Worry You More,” at:  http://www.healthlicensedefense.com/WorriedAboutaMalpracticeLawsuit.html

Wood, D.:  “Do Nurses Need Their Own Professional Liability Insurance?” (AMN Healthcare, Inc., 2011), at:
http://www.travelnursing.com/news-and-features/print-article/do-nurses-need-their-own-professional-liability-insurance/32984

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.

How Disciplinary Actions are Initiated Against a Florida Nurse

There are many possible grounds for which disciplinary action may be initiated against a nurse in Florida.  It is important to be familiar with these so that you can avoid them.

You should review and be very familiar with all of the Florida laws and the Florida Board of Nursing’s Rules that appear in the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.).  These may all be accesses through the Florida Board of Nursing’s website:  www.doh.state.fl.us/mqa/nursing/.  Look for the menu item “Laws and Rules” and click on this.

The laws which set forth various grounds for discipline include:

Chapter 456, Florida Statutes (which applies to all licensed health professionals).

Chapter 464, Florida Statutes (the Nurse Practice Act).

Chapter 64B9, Florida Administrative Code (Rules adopted by the Board of Nursing).

Basically, a nurse may be disciplined for any violation of the Nurse Practice Act, for any violation of Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, for violation of any Rule of the Board of Nursing (Chapter 64B9, F.A.C.), for violation of any law applicable to nurses or nursing, or for violation of any final order of the Board of Nursing or Department of Health.  The most ambiguous of these tends to be actions of the nurse which fail to meet “minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing nursing practice” (sometimes called “falling below the standard of nursing practice” or “substandard performance”), as stated in Section 464.018, Florida Statutes.

Acts that Result in Disciplinary Action Against a Nursing License

Disciplinary action may be taken against the nurse’s license, through administrative proceedings, under the following circumstances, as provided by Section 464.018, Florida Statutes:

1. Procuring, attempting to procure, or renewing a license to practice nursing by bribery, by knowing misrepresentations, or through an error of the department or the board;

2. Having a license to practice nursing revoked, suspended, or otherwise acted against, including the denial of licensure, by the licensing authority of another state, territory, or country;

3. Being convicted or found guilty of, or entering a plea of nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, a crime in any jurisdiction which directly relates to the practice of nursing or to the ability to practice nursing;

4. Being found guilty, regardless of adjudication, of any of the following offenses:

  • A forcible felony as defined in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes;
  • A violation of Chapter 812, Florida Statutes, relating to theft, robbery, and related crimes;
  • A violation of Chapter 817, relating to fraudulent practices;
  • A violation of Chapter 800, relating to lewdness and indecent exposure;
  • A violation of Chapter 784, Florida Statutes, relating to assault, battery, and culpable negligence;
  • A violation of Chapter 827, Florida Statutes, relating to child abuse;
  • A violation of Chapter 415, Florida Statutes, relating to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and
  • A violation of Chapter 39, Florida Statutes, relating to child abuse, abandonment, and neglect.

5. Having been found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to, any offense prohibited under Section 435.03, Florida Statutes, or under any similar statute of another jurisdiction; or having committed an act which constitutes domestic violence as defined in Section 741.28, Florida Statutes;

6. Making or filing a false report or record, which the licensee knows to be false, intentionally or negligently failing to file a report or record required by state or federal law, willfully impeding or obstructing such filing or inducing another person to do so. Such reports or records shall include only those which are signed in the nurse’s capacity as a licensed nurse;

7. False, misleading, or deceptive advertising;

8. Unprofessional conduct, as defined by board rule;

9. Engaging or attempting to engage in the possession, sale, or distribution of controlled substances as set forth in chapter 893, for any other than legitimate purposes authorized by this part;

10. Being unable to practice nursing with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of illness or use of alcohol, drugs, narcotics, or chemicals or any other type of material or as a result of any mental or physical condition;

11. Failing to report to the department any person who the licensee knows is in violation of this part or of the rules of the department or the board; however, if the licensee verifies that such person is actively participating in a board-approved program for the treatment of a physical or mental condition, the licensee is required to report such person only to an impaired professionals consultant;

12. Knowingly violating any provision of this part, a rule of the board or the department, or a lawful order of the board or department previously entered in a disciplinary proceeding or failing to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena of the department;

13. Failing to report to the department any licensee under Chapter 458 or under Chapter 459, Florida Statutes, who the nurse knows has violated the grounds for disciplinary action set out in the law under which that person is licensed and who provides health care services in a facility licensed under Chapter 395, Florida Statutes, or a health maintenance organization certificated under part I of Chapter 641, Florida Statutes, in which the nurse also provides services;

14. Failing to meet minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing nursing practice, including engaging in acts for which the licensee is not qualified by training or experience; and

15. Violating any provision of this Chapter or Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, or any rules adopted pursuant thereto.

Section 456.072, Florida Statutes, which applies to nurses and all other licensed health professionals, also provides a list of grounds for disciplinary action against a nurse’s license. This information can be found here.

Contact an Experienced Health Attorney Familiar with Nursing Law Issues

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have experience in representing nurses in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call us now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 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.

Nurse: Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

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

In Florida, You DO NOT Have to Speak to an Investigator!

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators.  In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you.  This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators”), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Investigators are NOT on Your Side.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible.  If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement.  You will not be better off explaining your side of the story.  The investigator is not your friend.  The investigator is not on your side.  All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you.  This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out.  However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage.  You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement.  However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this.  You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.”  This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

Admitting to Anything Can Ruin Your Defense.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense.  It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial).  It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents.  But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this.  You would be surprised at how many health professionals believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation;  in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession.  This is what they do full time, every day.  And they are very good at it.  They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.”  They will not be convinced by any excuses you make.  They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you.  Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you.  You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc.  It will not work.  You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

How to Determine the Purpose of the Investigation.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

You Cannot Outsmart the Investigator.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator.  Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege.  If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either.  Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator.  In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act.  This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time.  They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is.  Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed.  Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you.  If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying.  However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

Consult an Attorney Before You Do or Say Anything.

It is much better to make no statement at all.  Blame it on your attorney.  Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time.  “Speak to my attorney.”  “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.”  “I will have my lawyer contact you.”  “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.”  “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney.  What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?”  Please don’t fall for this trick, either.  This is America.  Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them.  There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the health professional only calls us after he has given a statement.  This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements.  Do not make either.  Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test.  Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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.

Florida HB 0653 Signed Into Law; Effective 2/1/2012

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

The Florida Legislature unanimously passed HB 653 which relaxes some of the draconian exclusions enacted under SB 1986, which went into effect on July 1, 2009. SB 1986, which added provisions to Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, among others, prevented numerous healthcare providers from obtaining or renewing licenses based on prior criminal convictions, which could have occurred decades earlier.

HB 653 has been passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature and has been signed by the Governor to be effective July 1, 2012. It has been signed into law as Chapter 2012-64, Florida Laws and amends Section 456.0635(5), Florida Statutes (2012).

Under HB 653, the professional boards within the Department of Health (such as the Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing, Board of Psychology, Board of Massage Therapy, etc.) now will, if signed by the Governor, only prohibit the renewal or granting of a health professional’s license, certificate or registration, if the individual:

1. Has been convicted of, or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to, regardless of adjudication, a felony under Chapters 409 (Medicaid offenses), 817 (theft or fraud) or 893 (drug offenses), Florida Statutes, or similar laws in other jurisdictions, unless the individual successfully completed a drug court program for the felony and provides proof that the plea was withdrawn or the charges were dismissed, or unless the sentence and any related period of probation for such conviction or plea ended:

– For first and second degree felonies, more than fifteen (15) years before the date of application;

– For third degree felonies, more than ten (10) years before the date of application, except for third degree felonies under Section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes; and

– For third degree felonies under Section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes, more than five (5) years before the date of application.

2. Has been convicted of, or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to, regardless of adjudication, a felony under 21 U.S.C. Sections 801-970 or 42 U.S.C. Sections 1395-1396 (federal Medicare & Medicaid offenses), unless the sentence and any subsequent period of probation for such convictions or plea ended more than fifteen (15) years before the date of application; or

3. Is listed on the OIG’s list of excluded individuals and entities.

This new legislation has the effect of reducing the period of time a health professional may be prohibited from holding a license because of a conviction for one of the enumerated felonies. Under the current law, there is a fifteen (15) year prohibition for all enumerated offenses. The new legislation, if signed, will reduce the period to as little as five (5) years for drug offenses.

However, it also broadens the reach of the current Florida law by including, for the first time, convictions under “similar laws in other jurisdictions.” This may now “catch” many to whom the Florida law did not previously apply.

HB 653 also allows individuals previously denied renewals under SB 1986 who at are now eligible for renewal to obtain a license without retaking and passing their examinations.

The latter requirement above, number 3, may present a “catch 22” for many health professionals. Usually, if a licensed health professional is convicted of a felony, loses his/her license or is denied renewal of a health professional’s license, this is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB now includes reports previously made to the Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB). If this occurs, in most cases the Office of Inspector General (OIG) commences action to exclude the professional from the Medicare Program. This automatically places the health provider’s name on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). Therefore, most licensed health professionals, even if they are no longer prohibited from holding a license under numbers 1 and 2 above, may still be prohibited because of requirement number 3 above.

Doubtless, this lacuna (gap) in this legislation will require additional corrective legislation in the future.

To view a summary of HB 653, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health and Human Services Quality Subcommittee, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health and Human Services Committee, click here.

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 27 Biggest Mistakes Nurses Make in Department of Health Investigations

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

Following are the 27 biggest mistakes that we have seen nurses make over and over again that cause them the worst trouble in DOH investigations.

1. Failing to keep a current, valid address on file with the DOH (as required by law), which may seriously delay the receipt of the Uniform Complaint (notice of investigation), letters, and other important correspondence related to the investigation.

2. Contacting the DOH investigator and providing him/her an oral statement or oral
interview. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

3. Making a written statement in response to the “invitation” extended by the DOH
investigator to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

4. Failing to carefully review the complaint to make sure it has been sent to the correct nurse. (Note: Check name and license number).

5. Failing to ascertain whether or not the investigation is on the “fast track” which may then result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) suspending the physician’s license until all proceedings are concluded. (Note: This will usually be the case if there are allegations regarding drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual contact with a patient, mental health issues, or failure to comply with IPN instructions.)

6. Providing a copy of the nurse’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to the investigator
because the investigator requested her to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

7. Believing that if they “just explain it,” the investigation will be closed and the case
dropped.

8. Failing to submit a timely objection to a DOH subpoena when there are valid grounds to do so.

9. Failing to forward a complete copy of the patient medical record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation, when no objection is going to be filed. Will usually not apply to nurses bu may apply to ARNPs and nurse midwives.

10. Failing to keep an exact copy of any medical records, documents, letters or statements provided to the investigator.

11. Failing to submit correspondence and documents via certified mail, return receipt
requested, so that you have proof of mailing and proof of receipt.

12. Believing that the investigator has knowledge or experience in hospital procedures, nursing procedures or the health care matters or procedures being investigated.

13. Believing that the investigator is merely attempting to ascertain the truth of the matter and this will result in the matter being dismissed.

14. Failing to check to see if your nursing malpractice insurance carrier will pay the legal fees to defend in this investigation.

15. Talking to DOH investigators, staff or attorneys, in the mistaken belief that they are capable of doing so without providing information that can and will be used against them.

16. Believing that because they haven’t heard anything for six months or more, that the matter has “gone away.” The matter does not ever just go away.

17. Failing to submit a written request to the investigator at the beginning of the investigation for a copy of the complete investigation report and file and then following up with additional requests until it is received.

18. Failing to wisely use the time while the investigation is proceeding to interview witnesses, obtain witness statements, conduct research, obtain experts, and perform other tasks that may assist defending the case.

19. Failing to exercise the right of submitting documents, statements, and expert opinions to rebut the findings made in the investigation report before the case is submitted to the Probable Cause Panel of the Board of Nursing for a decision.

20. Taking legal advice from their colleagues or employers regarding what they should do (or not do) in defending themselves in the investigation.

21. Retaining “consultants” or other non-lawyer personnel to represent them.

22. Retaining criminal defense attorneys, trial attorneys or other attorneys to represent them in such matters when that attorney does not have experience in appearing before the Board of Nursing in such cases (always ask the attorney how many time she or she has actually appeared before the Board of Nursing.)

23. Believing that the case is indefensible so there is no reason to even try to have it dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel. The case is usually defensible.

24. Attempting to defend themselves.

25. Believing that because they know someone on the Board of Nursing, with the Department of Health or a state legislator, that influence can be exerted to have the case dismissed.

25. Communicating with the Department of Health about the pending case.

27. Failing to immediately retain the services of a health care attorney who is experienced in such matters to represent them, to communicate with the DOH investigator for them, and to prepare and submit materials to the Probable Cause Panel.

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.

Preparing for a Deposition for Nurses

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

With the number of personal injury and healthcare-related lawsuits increasing each year, at some time in your professional career as a nurse, you will receive a subpoena requiring you to give an oral statement at a deposition. Having your deposition taken can be a stressful or even a scary experience. Following the few simple tips set forth in this chapter can make your deposition experience less stressful and hopefully relieve your feelings of anxiety.

Before the Deposition 

1. Be Prepared -You should prepare yourself for your deposition by familiarizing yourself with the chart or other medical records at issue in the lawsuit, unless your attorney instructs you otherwise. You should be prepared to answer general knowledge questions regarding the issues involved in the lawsuit. The examining attorney does not expect an in depth medical response; however, using some medical terminology may add to your credibility as a professional. Again, it is imperative that you realize your role in the case prior to deposition in order to assist in your preparation. If you have used certain medical terms in your nurse’s notes or medical record be sure you know exactly what they mean. If you used an abbreviation, be sure you know what it means.

2. Contact Your Attorney and Demand a Preparation Meeting – If you work in a hospital, you can probably expect the hospital’s attorney to conduct a predeposition conference to familiarize you with the plaintiff’s theory of the case when a hospital is being sued as an employer. Keep in mind that this attorney is not your attorney, but is your employer’s attorney; therefore, you may wish to retain a board certified healthcare attorney or a litigation attorney to be “on your side” for the deposition. If you are not contacted several weeks prior to your deposition regarding preparation for it, call your attorney and demand an appointment no later than one week prior to the deposition. This will give you time to meet with the attorney, learn about the issues involved in the suit, learn more about your role in the lawsuit, time to reschedule the meeting or have a follow-up meeting and time to relax before your deposition. Ask your attorney if he or she has a videotape of other depositions (from a different case) or a training videotape for you to watch. A training videotape can be particularly useful if you have never been deposed before. If your attorney does not conduct a pre-deposition conference with you, you are not receiving proper legal representation. Ask for a new attorney who has the time to properly prepare you for your deposition.

3. Ask If You Can Sit in on Other Depositions Before Yours – Although this may not be permitted in some cases, in many cases it will be. Consult with your attorney.

4. Do Not Discuss the Case With Others – Never discuss the case with others, unless your attorney is present or advises you it is ok to do this. If anyone tries to talk to you about the case, do not. If anyone asks you questions about the case, immediately advise them you have an attorney and that person should speak with your attorney.

5. Visit the Location of the Deposition – Unless the deposition will be held in your hospital or office, drive to the location where it will be held ahead of time and check out the parking situation. If you do this, you will not be rushed or late on the day of the deposition.

6. Pick Out Your Deposition Clothes – Pick out and prepare your deposition clothes prior to the deposition.

7. Obtain and Review Your Employer’s Medical Abbreviations List – If you work for a hospital, facility or group that has a “standard medical abbreviations list,” obtain it and review it. Check the records you wrote (after consulting with your attorney) to see if you used any incorrectly; if you did use an abbreviation incorrectly, be prepared to explain what you meant and why you used the abbreviation.

At the Deposition

1. Dress Professionally – As a general rule, unless your attorney advises you that it is okay to wear a nursing uniform, wear your best professional suit or “church clothes.” Regardless, be sure that your clothes are freshly cleaned and not in need of tailoring or repair. If in doubt, take what you plan to wear to your pre-deposition meeting with your attorney.

2. Do Not Be Intimidated – In some cases, an examining attorney will attempt to harass or intimidate a deponent during a deposition. If you have your own attorney present, she or he will attempt to curtail these types of tactics. If you begin to feel pressured, pause and take a breath before you begin your answer. Answers that are not thought out are the answers that the examining attorney will use to destroy your credibility as a witness.

3. Tell the Truth – When being deposed, you are under a sworn oath to tell the truth. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you give only truthful information to the deposing attorney. The truth is the easiest to remember and will help you deal with any psychological intimidation or other tactics that a hostile interrogating attorney might use. Harassment usually occurs when the attorney thinks that the witness is deliberately misstating or withholding relevant facts. Keeping your answers truthful may help reduce this type of behavior by the examining attorney.

4. Give Direct Answers – Give direct, straightforward responses without rambling or exaggerating and without volunteering information that was not requested. It is easy to be mislead into “telling all” by a friendly opposing attorney. Keep in mind that the deponent is only required to give knowledge that he or she personally has. If you do not know the answer to the question, you should state that you do not have personal knowledge of the information being asked. Remember, when an attorney for the other side is asking questions, the best answer is the shortest truthful answer. The best answer will usually be: “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know,” or “I don’t recall.” If one of these answers applies, use it. Do not volunteer information. Additionally, do not guess the answer to the question. Similarly, do not state your opinion; give only facts of which you have personal knowledge. Keep your answers honest, straightforward and direct.

5. Listen Carefully – It is important that the deponent listen very carefully to the question asked by the attorney. Many times, attorneys do not prepare questions or rehearse questions in preparation for a deposition. As a result, some of the questions asked by the deposing attorney may be poorly worded, confusing or may be asked in many parts. Give only the answer to the question asked.

6. Ask the Attorney to Rephrase or Re-ask the Question – The questions asked should be completely understood. If you have listened carefully and you are asked a question that you do not understand, it is proper and appropriate to request that the attorney rephrase the question. You should not feel anxious or embarrassed to request that the question be rephrased.

7. Only Answer Questions Within Your Scope of Work – In some cases, you may be asked medical questions that are outside your knowledge or scope of practice. It is certainly appropriate for you to say that you do not know the answer to the question or that the information is beyond your knowledge as a nurse. You should not answer questions involving subjects about which you are not knowledgeable. It is also proper to state if you do not remember the answer to a question.

8. Stay Calm – While being deposed, attempt to stay calm, relaxed and composed throughout the deposition. This type of behavior will enhance your credibility as a witness. You should not be concerned with how your answers will affect others involved in the lawsuit. Be sure to take your time in answering the questions asked. You should not feel rushed to answer the questions; after all, the attorney deposing you subpoenaed you for the deposition.

9. Speak Clearly – Speaking clearly will also aid you in the deposition. A court reporter is recording everything you are saying. Therefore, you must orally answer every question. It will also assist to curtail rambling if you remember that a court reporter is recording every word you speak.

10. Be Polite – Being polite and cooperative can only help your position. Even though an attorney may attempt to intimidate you, being polite and cooperative will hinder his ability to make you feel uncomfortable.

11. Never Lose Your Temper – Never lose your temper or allow yourself to lose control. Some attorneys will try to get you to do this so you will say something without thinking.

12. No Joking – Do not laugh or joke around immediately before, during or after a deposition. This is a serious matter. Treat it seriously. Never relax your guard around the opposing attorney. He is not your friend.

13. Pause Before Answering – Pause two seconds before you answer each question. This will give you time to think. This will also give your attorney time to object if the question is improper.

14. Stop Immediately if Someone Else Speaks – If anyone else starts to speak, stop talking immediately. If your attorney objects, listen very carefully to the objection. Your attorney may be trying to tell you something.

After your Deposition 

After being deposed, if you made any mistakes in your deposition or later remember an answer, notify your attorney immediately. It is probably not too late to correct it.

You have the right to obtain a copy, check and change any errors or mistakes (even ones you made) in the typed transcript of the deposition. Never waive your right to obtain a copy and read the deposition transcript (unless your attorney has advised you of a good reason to do this before the deposition). Demand that you receive a copy of the transcript so you can review it prior to your later testimony at the trial (which may be years later). Always demand a copy of the transcript with all of the exhibits attached to it.

You have the right to review the entire transcript, correct any typographical errors or any erroneous statements you may have made and file these corrections with the transcript. You can only do this if you exercise your right as a deponent to “read and sign the transcript.” This is very important. Never agree to waive “reading and signing” unless you have discussed it with your attorney before the deposition and you have received a good reason you should do this.

If you will be called as a witness at the trial or in a related case, always review the transcript of your deposition twice, once approximately one week before and again the night before you testify.

Again, until the entire case is over and finalized (only your attorney can tell you when this is), do not discuss the case with anyone else.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses at Depositions.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in depositions, Department of Health investigations, before the Board of Nursing, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

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.

The 25 Biggest Mistakes Nurses Make After Being Notified of a Department of Health Complaint

By Lance Leider, J.D.

The investigation of a complaint which could lead to the revocation of a nurse’s license to practice and the assessment of tens of thousands of dollars in fines, usually starts with a simple letter from the Department of Health (DOH). This is a very serious legal matter, and it should be treated as such by the nurse who receives it. Yet, in many cases, attorneys are consulted by nurses after the entire investigation is over, and they have attempted to represent themselves throughout the case. Often, the mistakes that have been made severely compromise an attorney’s ability to achieve a favorable result for the nurse.

These are the 25 biggest mistakes we see in the nursing cases we are called upon to defend after a DOH investigation has been initiated:

1. Failing to keep a current, valid address on file with the DOH (as required by law), which may seriously delay the receipt of the Uniform Complaint (notice of investigation), letters, and other important correspondence related to the investigation.

2. Contacting the DOH investigator and providing him/her an oral statement or oral interview. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

3. Making a written statement in response to the “invitation” extended by the DOH investigator to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

4. Failing to carefully review the complaint to make sure it has been sent to the correct nurse. (Note: Check name and license number).

5. Failing to ascertain whether or not the investigation is on the “Fast Track” which may then result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) suspending the nurse’s license until all proceedings are concluded. (Note: This will usually be the case if there are allegations regarding drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual contact with a patient, mental health issues, or failure to comply with PRN instructions.)

6. Providing a copy of the nurse’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to the investigator because the investigator requested them to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

7. Believing that if they “just explain it,” the investigation will be closed and the case dropped.

8. Failing to submit a timely objection to a DOH subpoena when there are valid grounds to do so.

9. Failing to forward a complete copy of the patient medical record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation, when no objection is going to be filed.

10. Delegating the task of providing a complete copy of the patient medical record to office staff, resulting in an incomplete or partial copy being provided.

11. Failing to keep an exact copy of any medical records, documents, letters or statements provided to the investigator.

12. Believing that the investigator has knowledge or experience in hospital procedures, medical procedures or the health care matters or procedures being investigated.

13. Believing that the investigator is merely attempting to ascertain the truth of the matter and this will result in the matter being dismissed.

14. Failing to check to see if their medical malpractice insurance carrier will pay the legal fees to defend them in this investigation.

15. Talking to DOH investigators, staff or attorneys, in the mistaken belief that they are capable of doing so without providing information that can and will be used against them.

16. Believing that because they haven’t heard anything for six months or more the matter has “gone away.” The matter does not ever just go away.

17. Failing to submit a written request to the investigator at the beginning of the investigation for a copy of the complete investigation report and file and then following up with additional requests until it is received.

18. Failing to wisely use the time while the investigation is proceeding to interview witnesses, obtain witness statements, conduct research, obtain experts, and perform other tasks that may assist defending the case.

19. Failing to exercise the right of submitting documents, statements, and expert opinions to rebut the findings made in the investigation report before the case is submitted to the Probable Cause Panel of your licensing board for a decision.

20. Taking legal advice from their colleagues regarding what they should do (or not do) in defending themselves in the investigation.

21. Retaining “consultants” or other non-lawyer personnel to represent them.

22. Believing that the case is indefensible so there is no reason to even try to have it dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel.

23. Attempting to defend themselves.

24. Believing that because they know someone with the Department of Health or a state legislator, that influence can be exerted to have the case dismissed.

25. Failing to immediately retain the services of a health care attorney who is experienced in such matters to represent them, to communicate with the DOH investigator for them, and to prepare and submit materials to the Probable Cause Panel.

Bonus Point: 26. Communicating with the Department of Health about the pending case.

Not every case will require submission of materials to the Probable Cause Panel after the investigation is received and reviewed. There will be a few where the allegations made are not “legally sufficient” and do not constitute an offense for which the nurse may be disciplined.

In other cases, an experienced health care attorney may be successful in obtaining a commitment from the DOH attorney to recommend a dismissal to the Probable Cause Panel. In other cases (usually the most serious ones), for tactical reasons, the experienced health care attorney may recommend that you waive your right to have the case submitted to the Probable Cause Panel and that you proceed directly to an administrative hearing. The key to a successful outcome in all of these cases is to obtain the assistance of a health care lawyer who is experienced in appearing before the Board of Medicine in such cases and does so on a regular basis.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Investigations of Nurses.  

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses and nurse practitioners in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.   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: Lance O. Leider, J.D. is an attorney with 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 Collateral Effects of Discipline on Your Nursing License

indest1By George F. Indest, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A. A case involving an arrest or a conviction involving alcohol abuse (DUI/public Intoxication) or drugs (possession, diversion, theft, trafficking) will probably result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) until the entire licensure case is complete.

B. Client may be required to be evaluated and probably enrolled in the Impaired Nurses Program (IPN) (for nurses only) or the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (for all other licensed health professionals), which is usually at least a five year contract.

C. Action to revoke, suspend or take other action against the clinical privileges and medical staff membership of those licensed health professionals who may have such in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, skilled nursing facility, or staff model HMO or clinic. This will usually be advance registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

D. Mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) (Note: Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently folded into NPDB) which remains there for 50 years.

E. Must be reported to and included in the Department of Health (DOH) profile that is available to the public online (for those having one), and remains for at least 10 years.

F. Any other states or jurisdictions in which the client has a license will also initiate action against him or her in that jurisdiction. (Note: I have had two clients who had licenses in seven other states).

G. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program. If this occurs (and most of these offenses require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the HHS OIG.

H. If the above occurs, the provider is also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting and is placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) debarment list.

I. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will act to revoke the professional’s DEA registration if he or she has one.

J. The certified health professional’s certify organization will act to revoke his or her certification.

K. Third party payors (health insurance companies, HMOs, etc.) will terminate the professional’s contract or panel membership with that organization.

L. Any profile maintained by a national organization or federation (e.g., American Medical Association physician profile or Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy profile) will include the conviction.

M. Regardless of any of the above, any facility licensed by AHCA (hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), public health clinics, public health clinics, group homes for the developmentally disabled, etc.) that are required to perform background screenings on their employees will result in AHCA notifying the facility and the professional that he or she is disqualified from employment.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health Investigations, before the Board of Nursing, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

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.

“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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