Florida House Preparing to Vote on Malpractice Changes

By JAMES L. ROSICA | May 2, 2013

The Florida House on Tuesday took up a bill that critics say would make it harder to pursue medical malpractice claims.

But the bill also had fallen victim to a tactic by Democrats upset that the House Republican leadership won’t accept federal money to fund a Medicaid expansion alternative – asking a long series of questions about bills that was slowing session to a near crawl.

House members discussed – but have not yet voted – on the bill (SB 1792), which was already approved by the Senate.

It’s a measure that’s favored by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and is sponsored by his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, in the House.

The legislation requires that expert witnesses who are called against a defendant doctor practice the exact same kind of medicine and not just be in similar fields.

The bill also allows – but does not require – any health care provider called as a witness to breach patient confidentiality and give the defendant’s attorneys information about a patient’s treatment.

That provision applies to the informal fact finding period before a lawsuit is filed. After a suit is filed, the state’s court rules apply that limit who attorneys can talk to and what they can ask.

Gaetz explained that defendants should be able to ask about usually private health-related information because plaintiffs, by suing, choose to put their medical condition in issue.

Some lawyers in the House were skeptical. Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, noted Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan are the only states with a “same, not similar” requirement. Gaetz replied that proved the “elegance of the bill.”

Rep. Kionne L. McGhee, D-Miami, asked if medical doctors could testify against osteopathic physicians, and vice versa, under the bill. Gaetz said it would depend on their practice specialties and the facts in dispute.

The legislative session ends on Friday.

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