A bill that will drastically the rules in Florida medical malpractice cases has now passed in both the state Senate and the House, and is currently on its way to Governor Rick Scott for signing into law.
The bill, which was sponsored by Senate President Don Gaetz and supported in the House by Rep. Matt Gaetz, his son, has been dealing with criticism from numerous groups and individuals, including the Democrats. Should this bill pass, Florida will become among the most difficult states to bring a medical malpractice suit forward.
Opponents are both concerned and irate over two provisions. The first provision is a restriction on who can qualify as an expert witness. If an expert witness is called to testify against a defendant physician under the new legislation, then he or she must practice exactly the same type of medicine, and not only be in a similar field as previously required. According to Democratic Representative Cynthia Stafford, this provision would excessively restrict the pool of experts who may be able to testify in a case.
The second provision refers to the period of fact-finding prior to the actual filing of a lawsuit, and allows attorneys who are defending physicians to ask healthcare providers about the patient and the patient’s form of treatment. This bill will not require the subsequent physicians to answer, but allows them to, without considering it a breach of the patient’s confidentiality. This provision is only applicable prior to the lawsuit being filed.
When it comes to what can and cannot be asked, state court rules will apply once a lawsuit is filed. Opponents believe that this provision not only tramples on the privacy of all medical records, but of confidentiality between a doctor and a patient. In an earlier debate, Rep. Gaetz argued for the provision stating that by suing, a plaintiff already chooses to make his or her medical condition an issue, and that asking about health-related information should be allowed.
Vincent DeGennaro, President of the Florida Medical Association, expressed support for the legislation in a prepared statement. He said that the passage of the bill makes the state a friendlier place to practice medicine, and increases Florida patients’ access to care.
However, Debra Henley, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, stated that the legislation harms relationships between doctors and patients, violates patient privacy, and may not even be constitutional.