Supreme Court Supports Florida Patients’ Rights
By declining to take up the appeal of a recent Florida court decision, the US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling that strengthens patient access to important medical information. The move has been seen as a victory for transparency in healthcare outcomes, as well as affirmation that Florida state laws that provide superior rights to citizens are not trumped by less protective federal legislation.
Records in Malpractice Case at Issue
The decision stems from a malpractice case brought against Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida by the family of a woman who was injured while in the hospital’s care.
As part of the case, the family wanted access to information about the quality of care at the hospital—so-called adverse medical incident reports. These reports provide detail about medical errors at the hospital, but the hospital claimed this information was confidential under a 2005 federal law.
The plaintiffs disagreed, asserting that a 2004 amendment to the Florida constitution enacted to give patients more access to medical records data could not be preempted by the federal statute. Their argument was that the hospital (or any other medical provider) couldn’t hide records from Florida patients by using a voluntary federal law, despite a mandatory state law making them accessible.
In January, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the federal law was not meant “to act as a shield to providers, thereby dismantling an important right afforded to Florida citizens.” The court made it clear that “health care providers should not be able to unilaterally decide which documents will be discoverable and which will not in medical malpractice cases.”
The US Supreme Court declined to take any further action on this case.
Pursuing the Case
An interesting twist in this decision is that the Florida Supreme Court chose to review the issue despite the fact that the parties had settled only a day before the court was to hear oral arguments. Someone not familiar with the case might wonder whether the court issued a ruling out of spite, for having its time wasted, but in its decision, the court cites several more important reasons.
This case, they note, “involves an issue of statewide importance” about whether a federal statute has superseded Florida law. There were also several parties, on both sides, who had filed friend-of-the-court briefs and had “important interests in the outcome.” The majority of the court felt there was a compelling interest in following through on this matter and cited several precedents allowing them to rule on the appeal, despite the settlement and dismissal.
A Victory, but Not Without Critics
It’s also interesting how those with different interests have described the decision. Numerous groups have hailed it as a victory for transparency and patients’ rights. But more than one has interpreted it as undermining patient safety.
However, many see this decision as a good thing for patients—and not just those harmed by a medical error. Accountability and transparency requirements should improve the system for everyone.
West Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Lawyer
At the Law Offices of Casey D. Shomo, we watch all rulings that affect medical malpractice cases in the state of Florida. It’s our duty to understand the current interpretation of all laws and regulations that might affect the claims of our clients.
If you’ve been impacted by medical malpractice, contact us today at 561-659-6366 or through the form below to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with one of our attorneys.