Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) March 25, 2013 – The Florida Supreme Court recently handed a defeat to medical malpractice defense attorneys.
In a move seen as protecting patient confidentiality, the Court ruled that medical malpractice defendants are prohibited from meeting privately with plaintiffs’ other doctors even if they do not attempt to acquire privileged medical information.
Tampa personal injury lawyer Robert Joyce, who is not involved in the case, commented, “This is an important reinforcement to an existing statute and Supreme Court decision already on the books. Medical malpractice defense attorneys cannot be permitted to endanger doctor-patient confidentiality, nor to improperly influence the outcomes of their cases.”
The case involved Ramsey Hasan, who sued his former dentist, Dr. Lanny Garvar. Hasan claimed Garvar neglected to properly diagnose his dental condition, which resulted in an infection that caused Hasan pain and suffering.
Garvar’s malpractice insurance provider also provides insurance for Dr. Jennifer Schaumberg, an oral surgeon who treated Hasan after Garvar. Schaumberg’s lawyer, who was chosen and hired by the insurer, sought to meet privately with Schaumberg to discuss the Garvar case with her. The attorney claimed not to seek access to Garvar’s confidential medical information.
In a 5-2 decision, the Court negated two lower court rulings that would have permitted Schaumberg and her attorney to discuss the case.
Writing for the majority, Justice R. Fred Lewis said that permitting such discussions endangered patient confidentiality and characterized Garvar’s attorney as “attempt to skirt the protections” of a 1988 law protecting doctor-patient privilege. He also cited a relevant Supreme Court decision from 1996 in which the justices said that such conferences would clearly violate the “purpose and spirit” of the 1988 law.
The lower courts said that the ruling did not apply to Garvar’s case because it involved defense attorneys meeting with doctors they did not represent, whereas Schaumberg’s attorney merely wished to discuss the matter with his own client. Garvar claimed Schaumberg’s attorney would only discuss with Schaumberg the legal and professional implications of her involvement in the case and her potential need to testify.
The two dissenting justices said that the decision prevented doctors from obtaining legal advice to which they are entitled.
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