When representing a medical malpractice case, one of the most important documents that could sway the jury is the medical documents provided by the hospitals describing the injuries of the incident. Many hospitals will make it tough for plaintiffs to be able to retrieve hospital records from the facility. The Florida Supreme court has rejected arguments by hospitals that they should be safeguarded from turning over records to plaintiffs in medical-malpractice cases.
This Supreme Court ruling came about last week during a Polk County case and followed a January ruling in a Duval County case. Both cases focused on the 2004 constitutional amendment, also known as Amendment 7, which was designed to increase access to medical records in malpractice lawsuits. The 2004 constitutional amendment was intended to provide access to what are known as “adverse medical incident” reports. Records that are held by multiple different types of medical providers can play an extremely important role within a medical malpractice lawsuit.
A decision made in a Polk County case by the 2nd District Court of Appeals that said Bartow Regional Medical Center did not have to release records that were produced during an external peer-review process by an outside company was overturned by the Supreme Court. Justice R. Fred Lewis, in a 32-page majority opinion Thursday, wrote that such reviews can’t be excluded from the requirements of the constitutional amendment.
“Such a result would be directly contrary to the intent and express words of Florida voters to have greater access to adverse medical incident records than they did before the passage of Amendment 7,” Lewis wrote in an opinion fully joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. “Moreover, the result asserted by Bartow would provide a trap door through which hospitals could totally avoid their discovery obligations by outsourcing their adverse medical incident reporting to external, voluntary risk management committees separate from those required by the Florida statutory scheme.”
Justice Ricky Polston agreed with the outcome, though he did not sign on to the majority opinion. Justice Alan Lawson, in a dissent joined by Charles Canady, said the Polk County hospital should not have to turn over the external reports because they were prepared in anticipation of litigation.
“Applying Amendment 7’s plain language consistently with this (Supreme) Court’s holding regarding its intent, like the Second District, I would conclude that the expert reports at issue — prepared at the request of the hospital’s counsel, outside of the ordinary peer review process, in anticipation of imminent litigation — are not `records made or received in the course of business’ subject to disclosure pursuant to Amendment 7,” Lawson wrote.
Medical malpractice in South Florida has always been a tug-a-war between plaintiff attorneys and medical providers. In 2004, 3 constitutional amendments were approved which required the disclosure of adverse medical incident reports; prevented physicians from being licensed if they have committed three incidents of medical malpractice; and sought to cap plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
The Supreme Court’s decision last week came in a lawsuit filed by Amber Edwards. In 2011, the plaintiff went to Bartow Regional Medical Center with complaints of stomach pain and was diagnosed with gallstones. During a procedure, her common bile duct was cut, later requiring her to be transferred to Tampa General Hospital for emergency corrective surgery, according to the Supreme Court majority opinion.
Edwards sued the hospital and a physician, touching off the years-long battle about providing medical records.
Meanwhile, in the January ruling in the Duval County case, the Supreme Court rejected arguments that a federal patient-safety law shielded the Baptist Health System from turning over some documents in a malpractice lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court early this month declined to take up an appeal by the hospital system.
Call the experienced personal injury lawyers of Hollywood if you or someone that you know has been injured due to their medical provider. Call today for a consultation!