Fla. justices rule medical documents must be disclosed

By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - In a ruling that could have implications for medical-malpractice cases across the state, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday said a Jacksonville hospital system was required to provide records to a patient's family because of a 2004 constitutional amendment.

The 5-2 ruling overturned a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which said a federal patient-safety law shielded the hospital system from having to turn over some documents in a malpractice lawsuit. The ruling stemmed from a voter-approved ballot initiative, known as Amendment 7, that was designed to expand access to records in malpractice cases.

"The federal act was intended by Congress to improve the overall health care in this system, not to act as a shield to providers, thereby dismantling an important right afforded to Florida citizens through Amendment 7," said the majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince and Senior Justice James E.C. Perry.  "Moreover, health care providers should not be able to unilaterally decide which documents will be discoverable and which will not in medical malpractice cases.