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Supreme Court Ready To Hear Malpractice Case

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

More than three years after a legislative battle about the issue, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next week about a medical-malpractice law that spurred debate over access to health information and patients' privacy rights.

Justices will hear arguments Dec. 8 in an Escambia County case that challenges the constitutionality of the 2013 law. The law has been controversial, at least in part, because it opened the door to what are known as "ex parte communications" in malpractice cases.

In ex parte communications, for example, defense attorneys representing doctors accused of malpractice could get personal health information about the patients involved in the cases. That information could come from other doctors who treated the patients, and disclosure could occur without the patients' attorneys being present.

Critics of the law, such as plaintiffs' attorneys, argue the law violates patients' privacy rights. But supporters of the law contended during the 2013 debate that its passage was a fairness issue because ex parte communications would give defense attorneys access to information that plaintiffs' attorneys already could review.

The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the law in the Escambia County case, finding that it did not violate privacy rights. That spurred an appeal to the Supreme Court.