Privacy Concerns During the Discovery Phase

If you are thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Florida, you may be wondering what happens after the complaint is filed. Unlike what happens in legal dramas seen on television, personal injury lawsuits can take a long time to be resolved.

During the course of the lawsuit, after a complaint is filed, the lawyers engage in a process called “discovery.” The discovery phase of the lawsuit allows both parties to ask each other questions, seeking out relevant information or information that could be relevant at trial to prove their case. Some forms of discovery are: interrogatories, requests for admission, requests for production, subpoenas, and depositions.

Interrogatories are questions one side asks the other. The answers must be signed under oath. If one party objects and fails to produce answers, the other party can file a motion to compel the answers. The court will determine whether the first party’s objections are appropriate.

In a recent case, a nursing home and rehab center filed for a writ of certiorari to quash a trial court’s discovery order in a negligence and wrongful death action. The action had been filed by a woman on behalf of her husband who had died while being cared for by the nursing facility. The facility was licensed as a skilled nursing facility under the Florida Statutes.

The woman filed interrogatories that asked for information about all of the residents of the nursing home, including their names and contact information. The purpose was to identify witnesses to the circumstances at issue in the case. The nursing home’s lawyer objected, arguing that the interrogatory asked for protected health information.

The woman filed a motion to compel. The trial court ordered the nursing home to produce the information after a hearing. It also argued that the disclosure was protected and was to remain confidential, only for use in the instant lawsuit.

The nursing home appealed, arguing that the trial court’s order would cause irreparable harm. It argued that the order violated the nursing home residents’ Florida Constitutional right to privacy. It argued that disclosure of their personal information should not be disclosed without a compelling need.

The Florida Court of Appeals explained that a party must show both material injury and a departure from the essential requirements of law to be entitled to a writ of certiorari. In this case, the potential irreparable harm would be disclosure of personal information subject to privacy restrictions. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that a writ of certiorari was not appropriate for two reasons.

The first reason was that the nursing home did not show that there were privacy concerns because the answer to the interrogatories did not reference statutory or constitutional authority on privacy. The second reason was that the trial court had not departed from what the law required. In this case the Florida Rule of Civil Procedure authorized discovery to find the identity and location of people that have knowledge of a discoverable issue in the suit.

The appellate court further explained that relevancy was broader in the context of discovery than it is at trial. The interrogatory was appropriately looking for witnesses to the events at issue.

If you are seriously hurt because of a medical professional’s negligence, contact the knowledgeable Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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