When I first meet with clients who have sustained an injury, whether the result of a motor vehicle accident, a fall or a physical attack, while they may have received treatment at a hospital ER or a primary care physician, it is not uncommon for them to have no idea where to turn for follow-up treatment. Usually this requires the need for a physical therapist, a neurologist, an orthopedic surgeon or other specialist. Having worked with a variety of specialists in the Tampa Bay area for many years, I often refer my clients to specialists who have provided superior care to my clients in the past. For a long time, insurance companies sought to obtain this information through the discovery process once a lawsuit has been filed. They argued that by referring clients to a particular provider, I must have a "cozy" relationship with that doctor which might affect the doctor's conclusions at deposition or trial concerning the client's injuries and need for treatment.
In many cases, the inquiry went even further, as defense attorneys would request production of all prior cases that the plaintiff's attorney had referred to a particular doctor, including detailed financial information regarding treatment costs. Well those questions were put to rest by the Florida Supreme Court in Worley v. Central Florida YMCA, Inc., 228 So.3d 18 (Fla. 2017).In that case, the Supreme Court reviewed a lower court's ruling that both questions were fair game, likening them to the long accepted ability of an opposing party to investigate the relationship and financial dealings between a law firm and the expert witnesses they often retained for litigation purposes.
In response, the Supreme Court drew a clear distinction between the hiring of an expert medical witness and the referral of a client to a treating physician. In order to divulge the referral, the attorney would be required to provide information and communications covered by the attorney-client privilege. In addition, the disclosure of financial information would threaten the confidentiality of former clients. Not unmindful of the defendant's need to root out possible bias on the part of the treating physician, the Court noted that evidence of a Letter of Protection in favor of the doctor remained admissible for impeachment purposes at trial. If the defendant/ insurance company believed that the medical bills and/or necessity for treatment had been inflated, they could always call their own expert to testify to that fact.
Bottom line, the Florida Supreme Court came down hard on the side of protecting privileged communications between attorney and client, as they should have.