FLORIDA: FMA Proposes Immunity For Witness-Review Panels
In an effort to speed up reviews of disputed expert witness testimony, the Florida Medical Association is recommending that the state grant immunity to panels of doctors charged with reviewing testimony of doctors who may "receive thousands of dollars to testify falsely" in medical-malpractice trials. Under the proposal -- expected to reach the hands of state health officials later this month -- the FMA would provide volunteers from its 16,000-member pool to serve as panel experts and evaluate doctors' testimony. In return, the state would make the panel "an arm of government and thus insulate doctors and the FMA from lawsuits and the potential damages sought by the accused." FMA general counsel John Knight explained, "The real concern is if a physician wants to turn around and sue for defamation or slander. Without that contract and liability protection, [the panel] would be subject to damages." If the three-physician panel "determined that the doctor-witness had falsified his or her credentials or gave misleading testimony, he or she could face ... expulsion from the FMA and a possible referral to the state Board of Medicine for stiffer penalties." The Wall Street Journal/Florida Edition reports that the state currently has a backlog of 756 cases awaiting review. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the plan. Critics counter that the FMA "doesn't deserve the state's legal protection because its expert-witness program is an attempt to discourage malpractice suits. And for that reason, attorneys for malpractice plaintiffs doubt these volunteer doctors would be impartial advisors." Ted Babbit, a West Palm Beach attorney, contends that the FMA's efforts represent an attempt to "brib[e] the state to get immunity" (Terhune, 12/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.