Florida Supreme Court Clarifies the Scope of Discovery of Records of Adverse Medical Incidents and Reaffirms Buster

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On January 30, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court concluded its review of Cedars Healthcare Group, Ltd. v. Ampuero-Martinez, 88 So. 3d 190 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000), (Case Nos. SC11-2208 and SC11-2336), by quashing the Third District’s decision and remanding the case for reconsideration by the Third District pursuant to Florida Hospital Waterman, Inc. v. Buster, 984 So. 2d 478 (Fla. 2008).

Background

The right to discovery of records of adverse medical incidents was created by the passage of Amendment 7 to the Florida Constitution in November 2004.  The Florida Legislature enacted § 381.028 in 2005 to clarify the operation and effect of the amendment.  The amendment and statute engendered a firestorm of litigation over their constitutionality, scope and enforcement and resulted in numerous district court and Florida Supreme Court decisions that tried to calm the storm.

District Court Proceedings

The Third District granted and denied in part a petition for writ of certiorari filed by a defendant-medical center requesting the court to quash the trial court’s order requiring production of documents requested by the plaintiff in a request for production.  Though the medical center raised numerous grounds in its petition, the Third District granted the petition solely on the ground that the request to produce asked for records of adverse medical incidents involving patients other than the plaintiff, without limiting the production of those records to the same or substantially similar condition, treatment, or diagnosis as the plaintiff as required by section 381.028(7)(a), Florida Statutes.  Section 381.028(7)(a) provides that “the adverse medical incident records to which a patient is granted access are those of the facility or provider of which he or she is a patient and which pertain to any adverse medical incident affecting the patient or any other patient which involves the same or substantially similar condition, treatment, or diagnosis as that of the patient requesting access.”

The Third District held that by not limiting the request as required by section 381.028(7)(a), the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law.  The Third District quashed the portion of the trial court’s order requiring the medical center to produce records of adverse medical incidents that were not limited to the same or substantially similar condition, treatment, or diagnosis of the plaintiff.

Supreme Court Decision

Though the case settled after the parties completed briefing, the supreme court retained jurisdiction and decided the case without oral argument.

The supreme court stated that in Buster, decided three years prior to the Third District’s decision below, it declared subsection 7(a) of section 381.028 invalid, as it “unconstitutionally impinge[d] upon the rights granted pursuant to amendment 7 . . . .”  Holding that the Third District’s reliance on subsection (7)(a) impermissibly conflicts with Buster, the supreme court quashed the Third District’s decision and remanded the case for reconsideration by the district court pursuant to Buster.