State and national groups representing hospitals and doctors are trying to influence the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute over whether a medical malpractice lawsuit should have been allowed to proceed.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday approved a request by the Florida Hospital Association, Florida Medical Association and American Medical Association to file a brief supporting an attempt by the University of Florida and Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics to bypass the trial.
The dispute could have wider implications as it involves questions about the qualifications of doctors who provide expert opinions required before medical malpractice suits can proceed. In May, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled against UF and Shands.
Plaintiff Laurie Carmody filed a notice saying she planned to sue for malpractice due to an infection she suffered after undergoing cervical disc fusion in 2016, court documents show. State law requires plaintiffs to follow a pre-suit procedure in malpractice cases, which includes submitting affidavits from physicians who issue opinions that negligence has occurred.
Carmody alleged that Shands employees Dr. William Friedman, a neurosurgeon, and Yolanda Gertsch-Lapcevic, an advanced nurse practitioner, were negligent, according to court documents. She submitted an affidavit from Dr. James DeStephens, a physician who practiced internal medicine and cardiology and had worked as a hospitalist.
UF and Shands sought to dismiss the case, at least in part, because they said DeStephens was not qualified to provide expert opinions related to neurosurgery. A circuit judge ultimately ruled that DeStephens was qualified to provide an expert opinion on post-surgical care provided by the advanced registered nurse practitioner, court documents show.
The university and Shands appealed, but a 1st District Court of Appeals panel said in November that appeals courts lacked jurisdiction to “deal with non-procedural disputes about the qualifications of experts corroborating the claims”. In doing so, however, the Tallahassee-based court acknowledged that other appeals courts have come to different conclusions on the matter.
This prompted UF and Shands to ask the Supreme Court to take up the dispute.
In seeking approval this week to file a friend of the court brief, the Florida Hospital Association, Florida Medical Association and American Medical Association — which have long sought to rein in medical malpractice lawsuits — highlighted the potential implications widest of the Cas.
“The requirement under (part of state law) that a plaintiff obtain a supporting affidavit from a medical expert in the ‘same specialty’ as a potential defendant before filing a medical malpractice claim, helps protect health care providers from frivolous claims,” the groups’ motion says. “The (Supreme) Court’s decision in this case will have a statewide impact on medical malpractice litigation.”
But in a brief filed in April, Carmody’s attorneys argued that the Supreme Court should not review the case.
“Here, the trial court properly conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the plaintiff’s expert physician was qualified to meet the standard of care applicable to a nurse practitioner pursuant to (part of state law )”, says the memoir. “The First District Court of Appeals correctly held that the trial court had held a hearing on the evidence, understood its role as guardian under the law and ultimately ruled that Carmody’s expert and affidavit corroborating evidence met the requirements of the Medical Malpractice Act. In doing so, the trial court complied with the procedural requirements of the statute.
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