Some of Your Privacy Rights Are Waived In Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, Court Rules

A state appeals court Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of a controversial change in Florida’s medical-malpractice laws, ruling in part that some privacy rights are “waived” when people pursue malpractice lawsuits.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal stemmed from a 2013 law, which the Republican-controlled Legislature passed after a lobbying battle between groups such as doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys. A federal appeals court last year also upheld the change in a separate case.

The disputes have focused on part of the law that allows what are known in the legal world as “ex parte communications.” The law requires patients to sign forms authorizing such communications before filing malpractice claims.

In ex parte communications, for example, defense attorneys representing a doctor accused of malpractice could get personal health information about the patient involved in the case. That information could come from other doctors who treated the patient, and disclosure could occur without the patient’s attorney being present.

Tuesday’s ruling came in a challenge to the law filed in 2013 in Escambia County. The plaintiff in the case, Emma Gayle Weaver, contemplated filing a medical-malpractice lawsuit against a physician but was concerned about the constitutionality of the ex-parte change, according to court documents. Weaver was the representative of the estate of the late Thomas E. Weaver, whose care was at issue in the malpractice allegations.

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