Suing Florida’s Doctors and Hospitals Just Got a Lot Harder-Thanks Governor Scott

I am a Miami lawyer who sues doctors and hospitals on behalf of injured Florida’s injured patients and their families for over twenty years. I have sadly watched the legal rights of injured patients get whittled away since I started practicing law in 1991. But nothing compares to the machete that Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has wielded in the short time since his election. Take his latest weapon: Florida’s brand new Statute §766.1065 “Authorization for release of protected health information” in claims for personal injury or wrongful death.

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Florida does not permit injured patients or their families to simply sue negligent doctors. Instead, the law requires families and their lawyers to engage in a burdensome, expensive, tricky and time consuming ordeal known as “Presuit.” It forces the injured to obtain medical records, expert opinions and comply with a complex and downright tricky legal maze before a law suit can even be filed. Generally, Presuit has to start within two years of the incident, giving doctors and hospitals the advantage of having a shorter statute of limitations than every other defendant in the State of Florida simply because they are “healthcare providers.” In the end, Florida’s malpractice law simply eliminates all but the most catastrophic medical mistakes from even getting filed as law suits. In the end, injuries that do not cause permanent and significant changes in the quality of a patient’s life nearly always go uncompensated.

Florida’s Statute §766.1065 simply raises the bar by requiring that the Presuit procedure also include an authorization for the release of a patient’s protected health information that is “potentially relevant” to the claim. In fact, if the authorization is not provided in the specific format required by the statute the entire Presuit will be deemed void.

Furthermore, Section 766.1065(2) states that if the patient or their family decides to revoke the authorization it will void the Presuit notice and potentially destroy a claim if the Statute of Limitations has passed.

This new “authorization” allows the defendant doctors or hospitals and their lawyers and insurance companies to obtain an injured Florida patient’s medical records and verbally interact with the patient’s other doctors. It requires the injured patient to provide a list of the names and addresses of all healthcare providers for two years before the incident even occurred. That means that if an anesthesiologist performs a femoral block on the wrong leg, the injured patient will have to give that anesthesiologist, his lawyers, and medical malpractice insurance company the names and addresses of the doctors she has seen two years before the malpractice even occurred. Then the defendant doctor and his team can obtain her records and even speak with her doctors regarding treatments or procedures that have absolutely nothing to do with her claim.

As a Key West PI attorney I fear this will have a chilling effect on patient care. I am concerned that if a defendant doctor and his lawyers are permitted to speak with unrelated healthcare providers and tell them that their patient is engaged in a Florida medical injury claim, some doctors will start treating their patients more defensively or discharge them completely for fear of being dragged into litigation.

Section C of the required authorization allows patients to certify doctors they believe are not relevant to the claim for the injuries but still requires the patient to list the providers’ names, dates of treatment, examination and evaluation.

An other potential harm of this statute is that it will force patients who have received treatment for issues that are private and not relevant to the alleged Florida medical mistake to disclose personal medical information. The effect of this statute may coerce Florida’s injured patients and or surviving family to simply abandon legitimate claims. For example, it a patient has been treated for a Sexually Transmitted Disease, Addiction or Depression, she will be forced by this statute and its required authorization to disclose this information to sue a Fort Lauderdale doctor who did a botched plastic surgery.

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