Court won’t intervene on request to show Morgan & Morgan’s relationship with injury doctors

Six months after Florida Supreme Court ruled insurance companies’ financial ties to expert witnesses could be revealed in litigation, state appeals court won’t force discovery similar information about one of Florida’s largest corporate plaintiffs.

While the ruling is largely procedural in nature, attorneys said it highlights lingering problems in Florida’s tort system: Some plaintiffs’ companies may have pleasant relationships with some doctors — but those information is often kept away from jurors.

The Florida 5sand The District Court of Appeals late last week denied a motion by Publix Super Markets Inc., asking the court to intervene and review an Orlando Circuit Court order. In the personal injury case, Publix had requested information about the financial dealings between the treating doctors and the victim’s law firm, Morgan & Morgan, in hopes of showing possible bias by the doctors.

Tania Molina was injured in 2018 when a Publix vehicle, driven by a Publix employee, rammed into Molina’s car. Molina’s attorneys had opposed Publix’s discovery request, and the trial court upheld the objection. Publix asked the Court of Appeal to intervene.

5and DCA’s panel of judges said it was too soon – Publix failed to show why it would not have adequate recourse during the regular appeals process.

“We do not get to the merits of Molina’s objections or the trial court’s decisions because we dismiss the motion for lack of jurisdiction,” the panel noted in the April 8 notice.

Publix attorneys in the case declined to comment on the decision. But a Florida insurance defense attorney said the layoff could now spur Publix and companies in similar situations to settle cases rather than go through endless appeals if they don’t trust financial relations. would eventually be exposed.

The case also highlights what some lawyers and judges have called a disparity in what information insurance companies must disclose about how much they pay expert witnesses and what plaintiffs’ companies must provide about their ties to attending physicians. In October, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in two decisions that insurance companies must disclose payments to expert witnesses. In previous rulings, the court had found that plaintiffs’ business relationships were protected by solicitor-client privilege, which Molina’s attorneys had asserted in the Publix case.

But the October judgments sidestepped the question of the disparities, and other cases are now pending before the High Court, asking it to provide further clarification.

“This ruling is a big deal,” William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, said of the Publix case. “It highlights very fundamental problems with the civil justice system.”

In the Publix case, the appeals court noted that none of the health care providers objected to the discovery request. Plaintiffs’ attorneys also failed to provide evidence that the disclosure would create a financial burden, or that it would disclose trade secrets, the court said.

Despite this, the court ruled against Publix’s request to intervene, at least for now.

“Here, Publix has failed to demonstrate irreparable harm because any error in the trial court’s discovery order is amenable to full appeal, subject to the harmless error test,” the court wrote. call. The court said it rejected Publix’s argument that the trial court’s order denying discovery “effectively eviscerates” the grocer’s defense on the issue of bias.

The trial court allowed discovery of certain financial relationships, including a letter of protection provided to the plaintiff. But the court documents were unclear as to what this disclosure revealed.

Letters of Protection, or LOPs, have become widely used in personal injury claims and are a growing concern for businesses and insurance companies. With the letters, plaintiffs agree to pay health care providers once the injury lawsuit is settled or adjudicated. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they allowed destitute people to receive medical treatment when the victim did not have adequate health insurance.

But corporate defense lawyers said some personal injury lawyers ask plaintiffs to sign protection letters immediately after an injury and to refrain from using their own medical insurance when seeking treatment. The idea is to work with cooperative doctors who will charge more, which can lead to bigger settlements and higher future medical costs for patients who need follow-up care, said Large and others.

At a 2019 Florida legislative hearing, a Publix lawyer, Lauren McBride, testified: “The sole purpose of the LOP, why it exists, is to push up verdicts and settlements,” according to a Kaiser report. Health News.

McBride said nearly two-thirds of slip-and-fall injury claims at Publix stores involve letters of protection.

With decisions like the 5and DCA, however, complete information on LOPs, prices charged by physicians, number of referrals by law firms to treating physicians, and Morgan & Morgan compensation to physicians may not be disclosed until the process of appeal of several years is revealed. , if any, says Large.

“If the doctor is referred by plaintiff’s attorney and used a LOP and charged a higher price than Medicare pays, is that something the jury should know?” Great requested.

In her petition to the DCA, Publix appeals attorney Diane DeWolf argued that the bias of a witness, including that of an attending physician, is relevant in all cases. Limiting discovery will cause “irreparable harm that cannot be repaired on appeal because the appellate court will be unable to determine how the requested discovery, if allowed, would have affected the outcome of this case”, wrote DeWolf.

Lawyers for the plaintiff could not be reached for comment on Monday. But in response to Publix’s petition, attorney Kristin Norse argued that asking the appeals court to intervene in the discovery was extraordinary and that Publix was not irreparably harmed by the refusal.

About Jessica J. Bass

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