Appeals Court Finds Medical Malpractice Pre-Suit Notice Statutes Do Not Violate Florida Constitution

In Weaver v. Myers, a Florida woman filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a physician following the death of a loved one without first complying with the pre-suit notice requirements enumerated in Sections 766.106 and 766.1065 of the Florida Statutes. According to the woman, certain 2013 amendments to the law violated the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and the Florida Constitution. After both parties filed a motion for summary judgment, the trial court found that the amendments at issue were constitutional and were not preempted by the federal law.

Next, the woman filed an appeal with Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. In support of her case, the woman argued the amendments were not valid because they violated the separation of powers doctrine, violated a special legislation limitation imposed by the Florida Constitution, impermissibly burdened her access to the courts, and violated the deceased patient’s right to privacy. The woman also claimed the law was preempted by the HIPAA statute.

The appeals court first stated Section 766.106 of the Florida Statutes requires a medical malpractice claimant to provide a potential defendant with at least 90 days of notice prior to filing a claim. This period was designed to allow a potential defendant to investigate the plaintiff’s claims. The 2013 amendments to Section 766.1065 also made it possible for a prospective defendant to interview a claimant’s treating medical professionals as part of this investigation process. Although a plaintiff may deny a potential defendant access to his or her health care providers, the court said doing so renders any pre-suit notice void under the law.

The court then examined whether the 2013 amendments violated the separation of powers doctrine. The Florida court held that the law did not conflict with Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.650, nor did it “intrude upon the supreme court’s procedural rule-making power” because it was “integral to other substantive portions of the statute.”

After that, the First District found that the amendments at issue did not constitute a special law. Instead, the appellate court stated the law met both criteria for a general law because it was open to all citizens of Florida and there was a rational distinction between the class of potential defendants and those outside the class. The court added that it was reasonable to treat medical malpractice cases differently from other tort claims due to the need to protect the public health and ensure adequate health care was available to Florida citizens.

Florida’s First District next found that the statutory amendments at issue did not unreasonably burden the woman’s access to the courts. According to the court, imposing a condition precedent, such as a notice requirement or an ex parte interview requirement, on the plaintiff did not significantly impair her right of access to the courts. The Court of Appeal also held the 2013 amendments at issue did not violate the decedent’s constitutional right to privacy because any right to protect a patient’s confidential health care information is waived once a medical malpractice claim is filed in Florida. The court added that the plaintiff placed the decedent’s health information at issue by filing the medical malpractice lawsuit.

After ruling the laws at issue were not preempted by the HIPAA statute, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s holding.

If you were hurt or lost a treasured loved one as a result of medical malpractice, you should discuss your rights with a knowledgeable South Florida personal injury attorney as soon as possible. To speak with a hardworking medical malpractice lawyer today, give the seasoned advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Weaver v. Myers, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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