U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle struck down a portion of a new Florida medical malpractice law on Wednesday, September 25. The judge held that the law is unconstitutional and is preempted by federal requirements regarding patient health information.
Under the Florida law, personal health information could be conveyed from doctors accused of medical malpractice to their defense attorneys without the patient’s consent or their attorneys being present. Judge Hinkle found that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents this type of “ex parte disclosure,” and ruled that the portion of the Florida medical malpractice law allowing such disclosures was thus invalid.
The ruling came as a blow to so-called medical malpractice reform advocates, such as the Florida Medical Association, but was heralded by patients’ rights advocacy groups like the Florida Justice Association.
Judge Hinkle noted that there may be valid arguments on either side of the ex parte disclosure debate, but ultimately decided that the arguments were irrelevant because of the express limitations on the disclosure of information under federal law.
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