Although a 1988 court ruling limits sharing medical information between lawyers and plaintiffs’ other doctors, a recent lawsuit caused the need from a new ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. According to the Sun Sentinel, on December 20, the majority ruled that defendants in malpractice lawsuits cannon try to circumvent a Florida law that bars them from obtaining confidential medical information from other doctors or dentists who are treating them.
Dr. Lanny Garvar, a dentist in Tamarac, Florida, was sued by former patient Ramsey Hasan for allegedly failing to diagnose and treat his dental condition. The delay in the diagnosis caused Hasan to develop a bone infection that left him with permanent and severe physical and emotional damage.
OMS National Insurance Co. covers Dr. Garvar and the oral surgeon who later treated Hasan, Dr. Jennifer Schaumberg. According to the Garvar, Schuamberg wished to meet with her attorney to discuss non-privileged aspects of the Garvar case, including the potential for legal exposure from the lawsuit and the effect on her certification if she should testify.
A 1996 Supreme Court opinion prohibits meetings between nonparty doctors and defense lawyers even if the physicians weren’t required to say anything. Two lower courts, including a trial judge and the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm, determined that the 1996 ruling wasn’t relevant in this case because Schaumberg requested to meet with her own lawyer and not Garvar’s attorney. The courts ordered that the parties do not discuss Hasan’s medical information.
However, the Supreme Court quashed the lower court’s decision, and the majority ruled 5-2 to prohibit malpractice defendants from trying to circumvent a Florida law. Justice R. Fred Lewis, who wrote for the majority, explained that the lower court’s decision could lead insurance companies to hire lawyers to circumvent the law’s confidentiality protection.
Two conservative justices, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, agreed with the ruling of the lower courts and argued that the majority ruling prohibits nonparty physicians from obtaining legal advise. Lewis, however, explains that the majority believes “it is pure sophistry to suggest that the purpose and spirit of the statue would not be violated by such conferences.”