Five Florida lawyers filed separate lawsuits in state and federal courts last week in an effort to overturn a new law designed to better protect doctors facing medical malpractice lawsuits.
The lawsuits claim that the law that went into effect Monday violates the right to privacy in the state constitution as well as a federal law that protects patients’ privacy.
“With everything that is happening in the federal government right now involving the invasion of privacy of U.S. citizens by their government, it is appalling to know that in Florida, our legislature and governor have authorized doctors to divulge their patients’ personal, private medical history to complete strangers,” said Debra Henley, executive director of the Florida Justice Association.
Suits were filed in federal courts in Tallahassee, West Palm Beach and Miami and state courts in Pensacola and Fort Lauderdale.
“It is hardly surprising that the trial bar would challenge this, as they were content with the extremely uneven playing field that existed before this legislation was enacted. This is what personal injury lawyers do, they file lawsuits,” said Timothy Stapleton, vice president of the Florida Medical Association.
The law 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.
The law also 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.
Opponents argued when the bill was being debated that it would hurt people seeking medical malpractice claims. The also pointed to already stringent rules put in place a decade ago that have helped reduce the number of medical malpractice claims in Florida from about 2,000 in 2003 to about 900 last year.
The bill was a priority for Republican Senate President Don Gaetz, whose son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, sponsored the measure in the House.
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