Defendants in personal injury actions may demand information about financial relationship between plaintiff's treating physicians/experts ("hybrid witnesses") and plaintiff's counsel if plaintiff was referred to the doctors by the lawyer or vice versa.
In examining the relationship between plaintiffs and treating physicians who also offer expert opinions in personal injury actions (“hybrid witness”), the court noted that a treating physician, like any other witness, is subject to impeachment based on bias, and thus, discovery aimed at producing evidence of a treating physician’s bias is permissible. The court found no meaningful distinction between a treating physician witness, who also provides an expert opinion, and retained experts where there is a preliminary showing that the plaintiff was referred to the doctor by the lawyer (whether directly or through a third party) or vice versa. In such situations, the defendant is entitled to discover information regarding the extent of the relationship between the law firm and the doctor, and under ordinary circumstances, a defendant may discover from a plaintiff's treating physician the type of general financial bias information set out in Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(5)(A)(iii). Normally, discovery seeking to establish that a referral has occurred should first be sought from the party, the treating doctor or other witnesses — not the party’s legal counsel. However, once there is evidence that a referral relationship exists, discovery from the law firm may be appropriate, with the trial court balancing the privacy rights of the former patients and clients and implementing appropriate safeguards.
Case Law Alert - 1st Quarter 2013