As Miami Medical Malpractice lawyers we are tasked with finding evidence of medical negligence. Our job became a little bit easier in 2004, when Florida citizens voted to amend the Florida Constitution by passing Amendment 7.
Amendment 7 permits patients to access records related to a health care facility’s “medical negligence, intentional misconduct, and any other act, neglect, or default that caused or could have caused injury to or death of a patient.” This amendment was brought to the Florida Supreme Court as recently as 2017 where the Court held that the constitutional amendment required the documents to be turned over upon request.
However, this month, a Jacksonville hospital, UF Health Jacksonville, filed a federal suit to challenge the validity of Amendment 7 claiming it conflicts with a federal law, in which case federal law prevails over Amendment 7 via the supremacy clause.
The federal law, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA) also provides for hospitals to submit those same documents to “patient safety organizations,” however, the act also entails confidentiality exceptions. Any violation of the confidentiality exceptions could potentially result in fines against the hospital.
UF Health Jacksonville filed suit when a patient requested documents that fell under the guidelines of Amendment 7, but also came in conflict with an exception of the PSQIA. As a result, if the hospital complies with Amendment 7 and turns over the documents, they could face a fine due to their PSQIA violation.
It is undisputed that access to medical records, especially errors, is an essential element of most, if not all, medical malpractice cases. Denial of such records would place an unfair burden on the injured party. However, looking back, the Florida Supreme Court already addressed this potential federalism conflict in 2017, where they rejected the claim that PSQIA would preempt Florida’s Amendment 7. The Florida Supreme Court contended that PSQIA was enacted in order to improve the health care and protect injured citizens, not to act as a shield. While the new Florida Supreme Court has favored businesses in their limited time on the bench, health care providers having the ability to choose which documents will ultimately be discoverable goes against everything Amendment 7 intends to protect while also contradicting the true purpose behind PSQIA.