In December 2016, Florida Supreme Court justices questioned the constitutionality of a 2013 medical-malpractice law that allows "ex parte communications" as physicians' defense attorneys gather information in medical-malpractice disputes.
The communications involve defense attorneys speaking with other doctors who treated the patients involved in the medical malpractice allegations. The doctors may have treated the patients for issues unrelated to the malpractice disputes. Under the 2013 law, the patients' attorneys would not be present for these conversations.
Those in opposition to the law say it could lead to patient privacy violations. Medical information is considered by many people to be private, and the communications between a doctor and patient could go beyond a patient’s medical condition.
The case has been the subject of debate by both doctors and plaintiffs' attorneys. The law could dissuade people from pursuing medical-malpractice cases because of concerns that private medical information would be disclosed during conversations between their doctors and defense attorneys. Others argue that the law levels the playing field in medical-malpractice litigation as it provides both parties with equal access to information concerning the plaintiff’s medical history.
The challenge to the law was filed in 2013 in Escambia County, Florida. The plaintiff in the case was concerned about the constitutionality of the ex-parte communications while considering filing a medical-malpractice law against a doctor after the death of her husband, per court documents.
Those in favor of law believe it provides an exchange of all information relating to a claim before trial to weed out cases with no merit. The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the law in 2015. Since much of the patient information can be obtained through other types of evidence-gathering in malpractice cases, the use of ex parte communications could make the information available earlier before scheduling a deposition or obtaining a sworn statement from the plaintiff.
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