Tag Archives: defense lawyers

Florida Supreme Court Overturns Medical Malpractice Caps

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Florida’s Supreme Court ruled 5-to-2 in favor of invalidating medical malpractice caps on non-economic damages. The initial legislation was put into place in 2003 by the Florida Legislature due to an alleged medical malpractice crisis. The caps limited payments to patients for non-economic damages at $500,000 in most malpractice cases and $1 million in cases involving deaths. However, on March 13, 2014, the Supreme Court concluded that the cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates the state Constitution’s equal protection clause.

This decision by Florida’s highest court makes Florida the seventh state to make such a ruling that such limitations are unconstitutional. There are 35 states that currently have some type of cap on medical malpractice awards.

This decision stirs up harsh criticism from doctors, and praise from trial attorneys.

History of the Caps on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.

The damages caps were initiated in 2003 by former Governor Jeb Bush, backed by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. Supporters argued that reforms were needed to curb the outbreak of medical malpractice costs. The caps were also initiated in an effort to lower the cost of malpractice insurance rates and to keep doctors from moving out of the state. According to Health News Florida with the caps, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits fell, which was interpreted as a sign that the caps discouraged trivial lawsuits. To read the entire article from Health News Florida, click here.

Harsh Words from Florida Medical Association.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) President Alan Harmon, M.D., wasted no time in releasing a statement of discontent. In a press release Dr. Harmon stated, “The FMA is extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. This decision imperils our considerable efforts to make Florida the best state in the nation for physicians to practice medicine and for patients to receive care.”

Dr. Harmon mentions that without caps to help regulate out-of-control litigation, many physicians may move out of the state, and few out-of-state physicians will look to locate to Florida.

To read the full press release from Dr. Harmon, click here.

What This Means for Health Care Professionals.

Now that medical malpractice caps are gone, trial lawyers will be refocusing on lawsuits. Health care professionals need to carefully evaluate each patient before treatment begins, even consulting with specialists when necessary. Detailed documentation is also important. Make sure everything is properly charted in the patient’s medical record. As a health care professional, its important to have an open line of communication with your patient, so that he or she knows and understands his or her medical treatment.

Get Professional Liability Insurance Now.

It is now more important than ever to have good professional liability insurance. The truth of the matter is that all health care professionals should protect themselves by obtaining a personal professional liability insurance policy. A good policy will provide medical malpractice and, very importantly, licensure protection coverage. The cost on these policies varies, but it is generally quite affordable, often costing little more that $10 to $15 a month. If you do not already have it, call Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), Lloyd’s of London, CPH & Associates Insurance, or another insurance company to discuss obtaining professional liability insurance.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

Our firm regularly represents physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses (RNs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies (HHAs), nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists (PTs), social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.
Services we provide include representation before your professional board in Department of Health investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a health care provider, how do you feel about the malpractice caps being thrown out? Will it make you think twice about taking certain cases or treating certain patients? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Gentry, Carol. “FL Malpractice Caps Thrown Out.” Health News Florida. (March 14, 2014). From: http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-malpractice-caps-thrown-out

Klas, Mary Ellen. “Florida Supreme Court Tosses Out Medical Malpractice Cap on Damages.” Tampa Bay Times. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/florida-supreme-court-tosses-out-medical-malpractice-cap-on-damages/2170030

VanSickle, Erin. “Supreme Court Invalidates Medical Liability Caps.” Florida Medical Association. (March 13, 2014). From: http://www.flmedical.org/Supreme_Court_invalidates_caps.aspx

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Massage Therapists Needs Good Professional Liability Insurance, Too

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Whether you’re an independent contractor, an employee of a chiropractor, physician or spa, or you travel to clients’ homes, insurance is essential for all massage therapists. Not only can professional liability insurance protect you in the event of a lawsuit, but it may also pay your legal defenses in the event of a complaint against your license to practice or for other legal problems. In Florida, it is not mandatory for a massage therapist to have professional liability insurance. However, since it is so cheap, we always recommend buying coverage. It’s a small price to pay to protect your livelihood. But be sure it covers the investigation of your license.

It is now common to be able to find professional liability insurance that provides excellent coverage and excellent benefits, but costs less than a dollar a day. One policy I recently reviewed for a massage therapist included payment of all attorney’s fees and costs for defense of HIPAA privacy complaints, for defense of any complaints or investigations of the therapist’s license and for legal representation at any deposition.

The Most Important Reason to Buy Insurance: To Provide Legal Protection for a Massage Therapist’s License.

The primary reason a professional liability policy should be purchased is that this type of insurance usually includes coverage for legal defense of licensing and disciplinary action commenced against a massage therapist. It’s important to note that many massage therapists’ liability insurance includes this coverage automatically, but some policies may not. Some companies may offer this type of coverage separately to be purchased for a small additional premium.

License defense coverage pays the legal fees associated with defending a massage therapist when an investigation is initiated that may result in action against the massage therapist’s license or in administrative disciplinary action. Coverage is usually available from the time the massage therapist receives written notice that an investigation by a state agency has been initiated. It will also cover formal administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

You should buy this coverage now, when you don’t need it. Otherwise, when you do need it, it will be too late after the problem arises.

Please Think About These Points When Buying Liability Protection.

When deciding on which professional liability insurance plan to purchase, the massage therapist should inquire as to the extent of coverage for licensing and disciplinary defense coverage. Some professional liability insurers have a “broad form” of coverage which may provide legal defense for the massage therapist in almost any type of administrative action. Other companies limit coverage to only actions that may result in disciplinary action against the massage therapist’s license. Still others provide no coverage at all except for lawsuits in professional negligence cases. The massage therapist should always attempt to get the broadest coverage available and be sure it covers disciplinary defense and licensure defense expenses.

The massage therapist should also question as to whether or not he or she will be allowed to select his or her own attorney. Many insurance companies have contracts with certain law firms to provide legal services for a reduced fee. The insurance company may require you to use one of its own contracted attorneys or in-house attorneys which it employs directly. Given the limited number of attorneys with experience in handling massage therapy law issues, it is advised to obtain coverage through a company which allows the massage therapist to choose his or her own attorney, especially for license defense.

The most important reason to purchase professional liability insurance is for the licensure defense coverage. A massage therapist does not want to risk losing his/her license because he/she was unsuccessful at defending in an investigation or did not have the resources to do so.

Question Your Coverage – Get Answers in Writing.

Since there are many different insurance companies out there selling professional liability insurance, it is important to be sure of exactly what is covered and what is not covered. Some companies provide “broad form” coverage, providing coverage for everything I discussed above, automatically. See Healthcare Provider’s Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance for example.

Other companies will provide this coverage as a “rider” for a small additional premium. Some insurers do not sell it at all, so you will have to buy it elsewhere. If you are in doubt as to your coverage, ask and get the answer in writing.

Insurance agents typically deal with a number of insurance companies. If you are using an insurance agent, be sure to specify exactly what you want. A good agent will be able to find it for you.

It’s Expensive to Defend Your License, Insurance Helps.

Legal representation is costly. To defend a simple case involving a complaint made against you, whether valid or not, can range from $3,000 to $25,000 or more. A case involving a formal hearing (similar to a trial) can cost much more than you imagine. If you are not independently wealthy and cannot afford a legal defense, you may be forced to accept discipline from the Board of Massage Therapy, even if you are completely innocent.

The rules and procedures in administrative licensing cases are not the same as cases in civil and criminal courts. An insurance policy that provides licensure defense will help the massage therapist to have the financial resources to seek out a health law attorney experienced in disciplinary cases and to obtain a fair hearing.

More Than 100 Massage Therapists’ Licenses Were Suspended in Florida.

You may remember in September of 2012, the Florida Secretary of Health signed 161 emergency suspension orders (ESOs) for massage therapists in Florida. The suspension orders were aimed at massage therapists who allegedly obtained their licenses to practice through a transcript-buying scandal at the Florida College of Natural Health. Many of these massage therapists are still fighting to keep their licenses. This is just one instance where having professional liability insurance can help save a health care professional’s livelihood. You can read more on the suspension of the 161 massage therapists’ licenses by clicking here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Massage Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to massage therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensing matters and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a massage therapist, do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Advice for All Massage Therapists: Please Talk to a Lawyer Before You Talk to the Department of Health (DOH) Investigator

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Massage therapists, I beseech you: please do not talk to a Department of Health (DOH) investigator until you have talked to a health lawyer who is experienced with DOH investigations and board licensing complaints.  Do not answer or respond to even the most basic questions about where you work now, what your address is or if you know patient x, until consulting with counsel.

Admitting to Anything May Hurt Your Case.

We are routinely consulted by massage therapists and other healthcare providers for representation after they have discussed the case and after it is too late to undo the damage they have caused to themselves. Often they do not understand the seriousness of the matter or the possible consequences, until it is too late. Admitting to even the most basic facts causes damage to any possible defense.

Administrative Licensure Investigations are “Semi-Criminal.”

The vast majority of massage therapists and even most attorneys do not realize that DOH investigations concerning complaints against a massage therapist’s license are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” proceedings.  This means the same laws and constitutional rights apply to them as apply to criminal investigations.  However, since they are also administrative proceedings and not strictly criminal proceedings, investigators do not need to advise you of your Miranda rights or tell you you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, etc.

In any criminal investigation a good criminal defense attorney would always tell you “Do not talk to the investigator” and “Tell the investigator you have a lawyer.”

How Investigators Try to Get You to Not Talk to an Attorney.

DOH investigators, police investigators, FBI investigators and other law enforcement officers, are well trained in investigative techniques and how to get information out of suspects.  Often the approach used is to catch you by surprise before you even know there is an investigation and the investigation is of you.  Another technique used is to lull you into a false sense of security that the investigation is about someone or something else and not you.  Another investigative technique is to convince you that you need to “Tell your side of the story” so that the investigation is accurate.  Yet another is that “Things will go much better for you if you cooperate.”  None of these things are true.

However, if it is truly in your best interest to cooperate or to make a statement, after you consult with your attorney, your legal counsel will surely advise you to do this.  The investigator should not mind waiting until you consult your attorney.  However, many will go to extremes to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and shouldn’t get an attorney.

Consult an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in dealing with DOH investigators, AHCA surveyors, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, police and sheriff’s office investigators, OIG special agents (S/As) and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators. 

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Sarasota Sheriff Wants Patients to Waive HIPAA Privacy Rights

By Danielle M. Murray, J.D.

Law enforcement has been working hard to bust pill mills and stop prescription drug abuse. Pharmacists and pain management doctors are under intense scrutiny by various law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Health (DOH), for their role in giving out controlled substances.

“Doctor shopping” is a common phrase used to describe patients who see multiple doctors in a short period of time in an attempt to dupe doctors into giving them prescriptions for controlled substances. Doctors have been hampered somewhat by HIPAA privacy laws and have been unable to report suspicious patients to law enforcement agencies.

Sarasota County has a solution for that. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the county has devised a form, entitled “Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information,” and distributed it to pain management physicians. This form is to be signed voluntarily by patients and would allow doctors to discuss concerns with law enforcement. According to the sheriff’s office, the form intended to be limited to the patient’s name and the doctor’s concerns, and not to allow the release of medical records or other protected information.

To see the form for yourself, click here.

Physicians Not In Favor of the Form.

Critics say that the form is a blatant violation of patient rights and is simply a way for law enforcement to get around constitutional protections, such as search warrants.

It appears that some physicians agree with the critics. Not a single waiver has been returned to the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office.

In a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article, a pain management clinic owner states that his clients sign a contract that waives their rights if the clinic is approached by an investigator. He states “I understand HIPAA and am a firm believer in their rights, but if they’re doing something illegal, they’re jeopardizing my license.”

To see the full article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, click here.

Providers are at Risk.

The clinic owner is correct. Providers are at risk for their patients’ inappropriate prescription use. We have seen cases where providers are faced with criminal and civil liability when a patient overdoses on medication, whether intentional or not.

Click here to read a previous blog post on one Florida doctor who gave up his license due to allegations of malpractice and overprescribing pills.

In Orlando, Florida, a drug trafficking ring used fake prescriptions to access drugs at pharmacies around the city, and the responsible pharmacists are now facing disciplinary action for filling those prescriptions. There is a major crackdown underway to stop pill mills.

Recently the Polk County Sheriff’s Office issued 25 arrest warrants in connections to a pill mill investigation (click here to read the blog on this story). The big pharmacy chains are getting hit as well. A Walgreens distribution center in Florida was recently served with an immediate suspension order from the DEA (click here for that blog), and the DEA also pulled the controlled substance licenses from two Central Florida CVS Pharmacies (click here to read more).

Do Not Violate HIPAA.

Providers must be careful not to violate HIPAA. HIPAA violations may also result in administrative and civil action against you and your license, especially if the patient can prove they were damaged by the leak. A patient who was arrested due to the provider’s HIPAA violation would likely be able to show damages and cause action against the provider’s license.

You can read more on HIPPA violations on our two-part blog series. Click here to read part one and click here to read part two.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think of the “Authorization of Release of Protected Health Information” form? Do you think it goes too far? Please submit any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Williams, Lee. “Sheriff wants doctors to have patients sign away rights.”  Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (October 1, 2012). From: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20121001/ARTICLE/121009975/2416/NEWS?p=all&tc=pgall 

About the Author: Danielle M. Murray is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Patients Like to Read Doctors’ Notes Online

By Danielle M. Murray, J.D.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that patients like to read their doctors’ notes.  In the study, published in April of 2012, doctors put their notes online, and gave patients online access to the file.  While some patients had privacy concerns, ninety-nine percent (99%) of them requested to keep access to the file after the study was over.

To read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel, click here.

Doctors Did Not Feel Overwhelmed by Having to Put Notes in Computer.

Patients interviewed for the study felt that the notes reiterated important points that they had discussed with their doctors.  Study participants were able to be reminded of key information, and many said they felt that they were more compliant with the doctors’ recommendations.

Doctors didn’t report feeling limited or overwhelmed by having to take notes in the computer system used for the study, and they continued to allow access to the notes following the study.

Non-Electronic Options for Doctors’ Offices.

If a doctor does not feel comfortable using an online system, or simply does not have the time or money to convert to an electronic system, the article suggests that doctors can simply add a new procedure to their current, handwritten record-keeping system.  Doctors can have staff routinely make a copy of the patient’s notes and mail the notes, or have the notes picked up by the patient, within a set time after the visit.

Keep in Mind Your Responsibilities as A Doctor.

As a health attorney advising physicians, medical groups and medical facilities, I have to look at the legal risks of such arrangements.

While putting records online or even creating an app for patients to access records is convenient, such an arrangement can inadvertently allow the records to fall into the hands of third parties.  I don’t know of many doctors’ offices with in-house staff to manage their document server and online secure servers for such an undertaking.  Even so, streamlining the process generally requires special software, which was created by and likely monitored by a third-party software developer.

I would first suggest that any health professional looking to digitize or allow remote access to records have a contract ready for their technology associate to sign.  The contract should clearly state the obligations of each party, and it should incorporate all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security responsibilities.  I would not suggest piecing something like this together on your own; seek counsel, such as experienced health law attorneys, to do this for you.

If you are unsure about HIPAA privacy rights, click here for part one and click here for part two of a blog series on possible violations.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, health facilities and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, OCR HIPAA audits, breach of privacy investigations, HIPAA risk assessments, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a health professional, do you make notes available to your patients? Does putting such notes online worry you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Pittman, Genevra. “Patients Like Reading Their Doctors’ Notes: Study.” Orlando Sentinel. (October 1, 2012). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/health/sns-rt-us-patients-like-reading-their-doctors-notes-stbre-20121001,0,925182.story

About the Author: Danielle M. Murray is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714

 
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.