A ruling by the Florida Supreme Court marked a general victory for injured patients in medical malpractice cases – without having much bearing for the parties involved, who settled the lawsuit on the eve of oral arguments. A motion for dismissal was denied because the case involved “an issue of statewide importance.” Regardless of the disputing parties reaching a settlement, the question at hand remained unresolved for all legal intents and purposes. The issue which stemmed from the case centered around the interpretation of a constitutional amendment, and how it clashed with a 2004 federal law. Such legal intricacies understandably became irrelevant to the disputing parties, although the implication for future cases was considerable, enough to warrant the FSC’s persistent interest.
A 5-2 decision by the FSC overturned the 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision. The Appeals court had ruled that a federal patient-safety law protected the Jacksonville hospital in question from having to turn over certain medical documents. The defendant’s attorney argued that the 2004 federal law works to provide confidentiality to hospitals which, for purposes of analysis by patient safety organizations, submit information about medical errors for voluntarily. The aim of the federal law was to encourage hospitals to submit information which could be analyzed in hopes of preventing future medical error. A classic case of the interplay between federal and state law and how to simultaneously apply them, the Supreme Court ultimately stated that the federal law could not preempt state requirements for information disclosure, citing “Amendment 7, which was enacted before the federal act, [which gives] patients a constitutional right to broad access to adverse medical incident records.” In essence, the federal law did not exempt hospitals from the requirement of turning over certain medical records. The malpractice claim stemmed from the treatment of Marie Charles, whose family filed suit on her behalf after she suffered severe neurological injury as a proximate result of Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida’s negligence.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles Canady characterized the FSC’s ruling as pure “advisory opinion” in an already resolved case. Despite Canady’s insistence that the court not “opine on the issues in a case that has been settled and that the parties have agreed should be dismissed,” if the Florida Supreme Court had not issued an opinion on the amendment’s effect on records, future cases would be forced to adhere to the opinion furnished by the 1st Court of Appeal.
Records play a key, perhaps a paramount role in medical malpractice claims. They are the foundation on which third party experts build their opinion of a case; expert testimony is so critical in medical malpractice suits that some states mandate that a suit be thrown out if no expert opinion/testimony is supplied. Therefore the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling carries considerable implications for future medical malpractice plaintiffs. It serves to expand (and eliminate question regarding) patients’ access to medical records, a victory for Floridians in the future who seek to litigate medical malpractice claims.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today at (800) 529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.