A recent Florida Supreme Court ruling in a medical malpractice lawsuit struck a major blow for victims of negligent healthcare providers. The impact is likely to be that Florida medical malpractice lawsuits are going to:
- Be more expensive.
- Drag on for longer.
- Face additional hurdles to success.
- Shake up legal strategies of both plaintiff and defendant attorneys.
Central to the rule – which was changed outside the Court’s normal process for rulemaking – allows hospitals and healthcare providers being sued for medical malpractice to immediately appeal an order denying a motion to dismiss on grounds that plaintiff’s medical expert witness isn’t adequately qualified to testify against the defendant.
The surprising ruling was something of a quick two-step. First, the Court ruled that the defendant hospital wasn’t allowed to get a rapid re-hearing on its motion to dismiss the claim altogether. But then, the Court turned around and immediately issued another opinion that switched up the game on the issue, amending the Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure to allow for interlocutory (mid-litigation) appeals over the issue of qualified expert witnesses.
In a short dissent, one Supreme Court Justice insisted a change this substantial to Florida medical malpractice case procedure shouldn’t be adopted before it’s weighed by the appropriate committee, which would be responsible for careful review followed by precise recommendations. That’s the way it typically works. But the Court just abruptly side-stepped that procedure. Although it is accepting public comment and requests for oral argument until mid-September, the rule change goes into effect immediately.
Proponents of tort reform are, of course, over-the-moon about this. They’re saying it will help ensure that only truly qualified expert witnesses will have the opportunity to testify against other doctors in court.
But as our Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyers can explain, that take ignores the unequivocal fact that the expert witness vetting process in Florida medical malpractice cases is already quite stringent. Plaintiffs can’t even file the lawsuit until they submit an affidavit of an expert medical witness with the same or substantially similar education, training, and practice as the defendant. The judge has to sign off on that witness before the case even gets started. Continue reading