Medical Malpractice Laws Survive Court Challenge

Changes to Florida’s medical malpractice laws in 2013 recently underwent and survived a challenge to their constitutionality. The changes were passed in 2013 as a way to give hospitals and doctors more discovery power, and thereby more leverage in a lawsuit.

The new discovery rules were codified in Florida Statute 766.106. The primary purpose of the amendments to Florida’s medical malpractice laws was to authorize hospitals and doctors sued for medical malpractice to contact and interview a victim’s treating healthcare provider. This allowed the doctors and hospital being sued to get information early on in a lawsuit they would otherwise not be entitled to.

When the laws were passed, the hope was that they would expedite lawsuits and encourage more settlements. But privacy and victim’s rights advocates felt like it was invasion of patient privacy to allow an opposing party the right to interview the victim’s physician so as to evaluate their claims.

Woman Sues Over Constitutionality

A woman who claimed to be the victim of medical malpractice wanted to sue the doctors and hospital who cared for her, but was afraid Florida’s new laws would invade her privacy. To back up her claims, she challenged the constitutionality of the new laws in a lawsuit. In her lawsuit the woman made five key challenges to the law:

  • The law violated Florida’s separation of powers doctrine
  • The law prohibited special legislation (benefiting the medical community exclusively)
  • The law inhibited her right to access to the courts, guaranteed to her by the Florida Constitution
  • The law violated her protected privacy
  • The law violated federal medical privacy laws

These arguments were advanced in her lawsuit, and her case made it to the District Court of Appeal, First District, State of Florida.

District Court of Appeal Denies Claims

The court of appeals considered each of the woman’s arguments, but denied her relief. The court’s primary reasoning was that this law was not aimed at helping the medical community, and that the woman’s privacy rights would not be violated because she voluntarily entered suit against the hospital and doctors. The court argued that once a litigant enters a lawsuit, he or she cannot reasonably expect to keep all the details surrounding the lawsuit (like her health) private. The court relied on a recently decided federal case that held that the new Florida laws do not violate federal privacy or HIPAA laws.

While this is only an appeals court decision, it will have an impact on medical malpractice cases going forward. Until the Florida Supreme Court hears and rules on this case, or a similar case, this decision will be influential in the rest of Florida’s courts. Now, in medical malpractice cases, hospitals and doctors will have discovery rights that they would not otherwise have under previous laws.

As medical malpractice laws continue to change in Florida, your case deserves the attention and care an experienced medical malpractice lawyer can provide. At The Pittman Law Firm, our practice is dedicated to recovering for victims of accidents and injuries, including medical malpractice claims. Contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.

See related blog posts: Florida Supreme Court Rules: When Medical Malpractice Caps Apply; Recent Study Analyzes Public’s Perception on Medical Malpractice.
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