Recently, Florida lawmakers in both the state House and Senate passed a new bill that will significantly alter the rules that Florida courts apply to medical malpractice claims. And now that the Governor has signed the bill – meaning it will become effective on July 1 – it is quite possible that the new laws will make lawsuits noticeably more difficult for victims of medical malpractice in Florida.
In particular, the bill – otherwise known as Senate Bill 1792 – contains two provision alterations that victims of malpractice need to be aware of. First, the bill changes the qualifications for expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases.
Currently, Florida law permits experts to testify against defendant physicians in medical malpractice cases so long as they “specialize in a similar specialty.” However, the new bill will eliminate this option and require that testifying experts actually practice in the exact same specialty as the defendant physician.
Victim advocates are concerned that this particular change may severely limit the number of experts who can ultimately testify in medical malpractice cases involving very specialized areas of medicine. And, if victims are unable to locate the appropriate experts in order to substantiate their claims, the chances of holding negligent doctors responsible for their actions diminish quickly.
The second important change contained in this bill is a provision centering on whether the doctors who subsequently treat victims of medical malpractice can be contacted and interviewed by the defense attorneys for alleged negligent doctors before a lawsuit is even filed. Specifically, the bill will now allow these types of “ex parte” communications between defense attorneys and treating physicians – although many believe this new process may violate the privacy rights of the victim.
Even more troubling for victims is the fact that this provision leaves open the possibility that treating physicians can be questioned without the victim’s attorneys for litigation lawsuits even present. Thankfully, the bill allows treating physicians to refuse such an interview if they so wish.
What to do if a victim of Florida medical malpractice
Although it is impossible to know to what degree these new laws will ultimately impact medical malpractice cases in Florida, victims of medical malpractice need to be aware that their actions directly following a failed procedure may have far-reaching implications for their medical malpractice claims.
For instance, it is important that a victim not sign anything from the hospital regarding medical liability – even if the hospital is offering to waive fees or provide upgraded accommodations. Accidentally signing the wrong document may unintentionally limit the damages available to the victim.
Furthermore, it is important for the victim to gather:
- Medical Records: Which includes all lab reports and tests pertaining to the victim
- Medical Bills: Which includes billing codes for all procedures performed, and conversely indicates which procedures were not performed
- Names of medical professionals: Which includes all staff and doctors who attended to the victim
After collecting this information, it is important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can review the records and determine what options may be available given the circumstances. Furthermore, a skilled attorney can assist in filing a claim and help ensure hospital staff are held responsible for their negligent actions.