Consumers are applauding a federal judge’s ruling today in Tallahassee that preserves their privacy in medical negligent cases. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle struck down the so-called ex-parte communications law authorized by Senate Bill 1792 that was passed by Florida lawmakers last spring.
The law requires plaintiff’s in a medical malpractice case to give the the defendant, or a representative of the defendant, written permission to conduct “ex parte” interviews of the plaintiff’s other healthcare providers without having his or her own counsel present. The defendant could obtain private medical information that may, or may not be, relevant to the negligence action.
The plaintiff in the Tallahassee case argued the law violated federal HIPPA laws which guarantee that health records remain confidential. Judge Hinkle agreed and ordered an injunction to stop enforcement of the law.
The Tallahassee case was one of five lawsuits filed in both federal and state courts challenging the ex parte communications law which took effect July 1. Freedland Harwin, PL partner Kenneth Sobel coordinated the litigation on behalf of the Florida Justice Association, a legal organization that protects consumers’ legal rights in Florida. Sobel and others argued that allowing lawyers to engage in ex parte communications will cause patients to withhold vital information from their doctors that could prevent effective treatment. The other concern is that such communications could lead to malpractice insurers, represented by the attorney, using those communications to threaten or intimidate the doctor from testifying in a medical negligence case or the victim from filing the case in the first place.
“We believe the judge made the right decision in this case,” said Sobel. “The law is a clear violation of HIPPA as well as Florida privacy laws. Florida consumers are much better off with this law off the books.”