While Florida’s physicians are respected as authorities on healthcare, they are, also the target of numerous personal injury lawsuits for medical malpractice. This should be an area of grave concern for Florida doctors, since even allegations of malpractice that are unfounded can result in a complaint being filed with and investigated by the Florida Department of Health.
Some of these complaints may seem frivolous, but doctors need to take them seriously. A complaint against you from a patient, colleague, employee, employer, competitor, hospital or other healthcare company could jeopardize your career and your future. If a complaint is filed against you, it is essential to get help immediately from a knowledgeable, experienced Florida license defense attorney for doctors who will know how to respond effectively to the allegations and be able to help protect your license, reputation and career.
What Are the Grounds for a Medical Malpractice Complaint?
Florida Statute Section 456.50 defines medical malpractice as “the failure to practice medicine in accordance with the level of care, skill, and treatment recognized in general law related to health care licensure.” In other words, care that is below the standard of care generally accepted and practiced by other reasonably prudent medical providers of the same specialty is considered malpractice.
Under Florida Statute Section 458.331, medical malpractice is grounds for denial of a medical license or disciplinary action. That means that If a complaint of medical malpractice is filed against you, you need to take it very seriously. Presenting a thorough defense to the Department of Health early in the complaint process could make the difference between the complaint being dropped altogether and having to go through a lengthy complaint process with the Florida Department of Health that could end up damaging your career and your future.
What Is the Florida Medical License Complaint Process?
Investigation of a Florida Medical Malpractice Complaint
When a complaint is filed against you, an investigator from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) or the Board of Medicine is assigned to investigate the complaint’s merit. Typically, the investigator will notify you of the complaint and want to discuss it with you. Often, doctors mistakenly ignore this notification or view it as frivolous and do not respond effectively. This can lead to consequences they could possibly have avoided with a thorough response prepared with the help of a knowledgeable Florida medical license defense attorney.
Complaint investigations are confidential. However, if the complaint is found to have merit and goes to a probable cause panel for examination, you could end up facing an administrative complaint that becomes a part of the public record. Therefore, regardless of your opinion of the complaint, you should get advice from an attorney and respond thoroughly to the Department of Health. An experienced Florida medical license defense attorney may be able to resolve the issue at this early investigation stage by submitting evidence, such as reports from expert witnesses to validate your course of treatment and adherence to the standard of care, so you can avoid any further action.
Probable Cause Panel
If Department attorneys, known as the Prosecution Services Unit, determine the complaint of medical malpractice has merit, it is forwarded to a probable cause panel (PCP) composed of 2 or 3 Board members, 1 or 2 licensed physicians, and a consumer member. Prior to PCP review of the case, your attorney will have obtained the investigative file with all the evidence the Department has collected and submitted a thorough response containing all the facts and legal arguments as to why an administrative complaint should not be filed against you.
The PCP will review all of the evidence and information collected during the investigation, including any information and evidence submitted by your attorney, and determine if probable cause exists. If the PCP decides probable cause does exist, an administrative complaint is filed.
An administrative complaint begins the Formal Administrative Complaint process and the case becomes public, so even if the complaint is later dismissed, your reputation as a physician can be damaged. At this point, you are entitled to a copy of the entire case file. The FDOH may also propose a settlement agreement that you can accept or reject, depending upon what you and your attorney determine is in your best interest.
When you are faced with a formal Administrative Complaint, you actually have several different paths to choose from:
- Accept the settlement. Your attorney can negotiate specific conditions of settlement with the Department’s attorney for presentation to the Board. However, the Board can reject the settlement terms, and any settlement agreement still constitutes license discipline that can damage your career.
- Have an informal hearing before the Board of Medicine. If you do not dispute the facts in the Administrative Complaint, you can choose to have your case heard by the appropriate professional board or department. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to provide evidence to mitigate or challenge the complaint. However, having an informal hearing means you waive your right to a formal hearing and reaching a settlement with the Department of Health. You will be disciplined and in most cases, you won’t have the right to appeal.
- Have a formal hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). If you disagree with the facts in the Administrative Complaint, you may choose to have a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). When a case is referred to DOAH, it resembles a traditional lawsuit. Both sides are able to engage in discovery, take depositions, and file motions with the Court. The formal hearing resembles a traditional trial, in which you present evidence and witnesses and cross-examine the Department’s witnesses.
Formal Administrative Hearing
A formal administrative hearing is the administrative equivalent of a trial in civil or criminal litigation. You appear before an administrative court judge who hears all the evidence and then issues a final order that is filed with the Florida Department of Health and the Board of Medicine. Possible outcomes include: dismissal, a reprimand, fines and other costs, probation, suspension of your medical license, or revocation of your medical license.
How Can a Florida Medical License Defense Attorney Help?
Just as your patients benefit from advice from and treatment by a medical professional, so too can doctors benefit from professional legal advice and help throughout the complaint process. An experienced Florida license defense attorney understands the process and knows how to respond effectively to investigators, what kind of information to submit to probable cause panels, what action to take when an administrative complaint has been filed, how to prepare a strong defense for an administrative hearing, and how to win on appeal in the District Court of Appeals.
Your best course of action is to get help from a license defense attorney as soon as you are aware the Department of Health could be investigating a complaint against you. Attorney Jonathan Rose has years of successful experience in helping doctors respond to investigators and can possibly help resolve the issue before it goes any further. If, however, a complaint has progressed past the initial investigation, he can still intervene and advocate on your behalf, mitigating the negative consequences an administrative complaint can have on your reputation, your career and your future.
Fight Allegations of Medical Malpractice with Competence and Experience
When your medical license and your future are at stake, you need an attorney who will fight aggressively to protect your rights and your future. You need an attorney who has successful experience in defense and healthcare law in state, federal and administrative courts.
Jonathan Rose has twenty-one years of experience in state and federal court. He has helped many doctors challenge administrative complaints, license suspensions, and criminal charges and has the expertise in defense and healthcare law to help protect your medical license, career and future.