A new medical malpractice bill is slowly gaining traction in Florida. Senate Bill 1792 was approved by the Florida Senate Rules Committee and will now be considered by the state Senate. (The House is considering a similar bill simultaneously).

The bill, which has been strongly pushed by the Florida Medical Association (FMA), contains three changes that the FMA has considered top priority for years. The first limits who qualifies as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case. Currently, a physician who specializes in a similar specialty and who has treated the patient in the past would qualify as an expert witness in the case. The proposed change would allow only physicians with the same specialty to act as experts.

The second change, and one that is hotly contested, would allow the defendant or the defendant’s attorney to interview physicians who are not part of the suit but who have treated the plaintiff without notifying the plaintiff, or having the plaintiff’s attorney present. These “ex parte” communications (meaning for one side only) are not typically how things are done in legal cases, but also bring up a bigger issue, which is patient privacy.  

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Sen. Joe Negron expressed his concern about the provision, stating that “there is a reason they shut the door when you go see the doctor, because those are private things.” Negron said he would work to have that provision removed; however the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee, said that the provision was the “heart of the bill” and it might not pass without it.

The third proposed change involves laws regarding medical information, and specifies that if subpoenaed in a medical malpractice or administrative hearing, a doctor must provide a patient’s medical records to an attorney as long as the patient agreed in writing beforehand. The proposed bill is now available for the full senate to consider, and the house version is under consideration as well.