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Expert witness regulation passes House panel

A House panel today approved a controversial medical-malpractice bill that would place new restrictions on out-of-state expert witnesses who testify against Florida doctors.

The Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee voted 11-3 to approve the bill, which is a top priority of the Florida Medical Association and also is backed by hospitals, dentists and other doctor groups.

The bill would make several changes to the malpractice system, but FMA General Counsel Jeff Scott said a key part would require out-of-state experts to go through a certification process with the Department of Health. Those experts could be disciplined for providing misleading testimony.

Subcommittee members rejected a proposed amendment that would have eliminated the expert-witness part of the bill.

"It (the certification process) is not going to do anything but hold people accountable for what they say,'' Scott said.

But Orlando attorney Maria Tejedor, who represents medical-malpractice victims, said the purpose of the bill is to discourage out-of-state experts from testifying in Florida cases. She said she uses experts from nationally known medical schools and hospitals.

"When we look for medical-malpractice experts, we look for the best and the brightest,'' Tejedor said.

The subcommittee, however, approved another amendment backed by trial lawyers. That amendment dealt with the ability of defense attorneys to interview physicians who treat injured patients after alleged malpractice occurs.

The bill would have allowed such interviews without notification to the patients' attorneys. Subcommittee members, however, eliminated that part of the bill after arguments that it was unfair and would violate the relationship between patients and their physicians.