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Analysis of the Florida Supreme Court Case on the Admissibility of a Relationship between Treating Doctors and Plaintiff’s Attorney  

 

When individuals are injured by a negligent individual, business, or public entity, the defendant frequently will employ a range of litigation strategies to mitigate liability and reduce the amount of damages.  Although liability is the central issue in many Florida personal injury lawsuits, disputes over the nature, extent, and permanence of injuries also can be a critical issue in the calculation of damages.  Medical experts often provide indispensable evidence on the issue of the nature of the injuries and treatment of the plaintiff.  Because medical professionals often are viewed with a high degree of authority and respect by jurors, insurance companies and defendants will explore ways to attack the credibility of medical experts to reduce the amount of a damage award.  In this blog, our Miami personal injury lawyers review a Florida Supreme Court decision about the admissibility of evidence regarding a referral relationship between the plaintiff’s attorney and treating doctors.

In Worley v. Central Florida Young Men’s Christian Ass’n, Inc., the state’s highest court resolved a certified conflict between the 2nd and 5th DCA.  The Florida Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a party is required to disclose whether their lawyer referred the individual to a treating physician.  The reasoning of the court focused on analyzing whether the attorney-client privilege provided a valid basis to shield this information during the discovery process.

In the 5th DCA case, the plaintiff suffered injuries in a slip and fall accident while walking in a parking lot of a Florida YMCA.  She received emergency medical treatment.  The doctor in the emergency room referred her to a specialist for management of pain in her knee.  Because the plaintiff was short on funds, she elected not to visit the specialist.  When she later consulted with a personal injury lawyer, the attorney referred her to physicians who treated her injuries.  The YMCA served interrogatories to several treating medical providers and the plaintiff’s law firm to establish a “cozy relationship” between the health care providers and the plaintiff’s attorneys.

The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion to compel answers to the interrogatories propounded on the medical providers.  The 5th DCA upheld the trial judge’s decision based on the ruling that a financial relationship between the doctors and attorney would be discoverable because a referral arrangement could provide evidence of bias.  The plaintiff appealed the decision based on the grounds disclosure of the information requested by the interrogatories would result in a violation of attorney-client privilege.  The 5th DCA decision allowing discovery of this information directly conflicted with a contrary ruling by the 2nd DCA.

When the Supreme Court of Florida considered this split between the appellate courts, it sided with the 2nd DCA.   Prior decisions that allowed disclosure of the relationship between a plaintiff’s law firm and expert witnesses, which were relied on by the trial court and the 5th DCA, were distinguishable from the current case involving a treating doctor.  The state’s highest court reasoned that even if evidence existed that the medical bills were inflated, this concern did not trump the importance of maintaining the confidential relationship between an attorney and client.  The court noted that a contrary ruling would have a chilling effect on the ability of plaintiffs to obtain medical care because physicians would be afraid of getting dragged into litigation.  The court also pointed out that granting this type of discovery order would inflate the cost of litigation to a level that attorneys might refuse to advance these costs effectively denying a plaintiff access to the courthouse.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence 

This decision provides valuable benefits for plaintiffs injured by the negligence of other parties.  The outcome protects the ability of injury victims to get medical treatment and to seek justice without the obstacle of inflated cost.  Our Miami personal injury attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation for our clients.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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