The District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida (“Florida Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on November 9, 2018: “Because the violation of a statutorily-imposed duty of confidentiality is actionable under the common law, the trial court erred when it held that [the Florida medical malpractice plaintiff] could not bring a claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on [his physician’s] unauthorized disclosure of [his] medical records.”
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff was a correctional officer who was treated by the defendant physician for high blood pressure. The defendant physician recommended that the plaintiff take time off from work and after treatment, released him to return to work when his blood pressure was stable. The plaintiff disagreed with the defendant physician’s release of him to return to work and refused to return to work.
The plaintiff’s employer sent a questionnaire to the defendant physician regarding the plaintiff’s fitness to return to work. Included with that correspondence was a blank medical release form for the plaintiff to sign. Without receiving or even requesting the plaintiff’s authorization, the defendant physician returned the questionnaire to the employer, noting that the plaintiff was medically stable but he needed a psychiatric evaluation before he could resume his duties as a corrections officer. The defendant physician attached some of the plaintiff’s medical records to her response to the plaintiff’s employer.
The plaintiff alleged in his lawsuit against the defendant physician that the doctor-patient relationship he had with the defendant created a fiduciary duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant breached that duty by disclosing his confidential medical records without his consent and that this breach resulted in damages to him.
Despite sufficiently stating a cause of action for common law breach of fiduciary duty, the trial court concluded that the plaintiff was not authorized to bring a claim under section 456.057, Florida Statutes, as that statute does not provide a private right to a cause of action.
The Florida Appellate Court stated that contrary to the lower court’s conclusion, the plaintiff brought his claim against the defendant physician under the common law and he never claimed that section 456.057 created a private cause of action.
Breach Of Fiduciary Duty
Breach of fiduciary duty is a common law tort requiring proof of the existence of a fiduciary duty, and the breach of that duty such that it is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages. The Florida Appellate Court stated that the plaintiff alleged a relationship of trust and confidence between him and the defendant physician that was sufficient to establish the basis of a common law fiduciary duty: while not suing specifically under section 456.057, the plaintiff correctly points out that statutory confidentiality requirements can give rise to fiduciary duties.
The Florida Appellate Court stated that the defendant physician was the plaintiff’s doctor and, under Florida law, any information the plaintiff disclosed to her was confidential. Section 456.057(8) provides that “information disclosed to a health care practitioner by a patient in the course of the care and treatment of such patient is confidential.”
The Florida Appellate Court held that section 456.057 “indicates an intent to protect patients from “unauthorized disclosure” … [and] a breach of the physician’s duty not to disclose be actionable in tort.” “[T]he requirement of doctor-patient confidentiality creates “a relation of trust and confidence . . . between the parties” giving rise to a fiduciary duty, the breach of which is actionable in tort.”
Source LeBlanc v. Acevedo, M.D., Case No. 5D17-2174.
If you may be the victim of unauthorized disclosure of medical records or unauthorized disclosure of confidential medical information in Florida or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a medical malpractice lawyer in Florida or in your state who may investigate your unauthorized disclosure claim for you and represent you in an unauthorized disclosure of confidential medical information lawsuit, if appropriate.
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