Florida court: Dead or not, privacy right remains alive
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
Nov. 09, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A widow's fight to keep her husband's medical records private in a malpractice lawsuit led the Florida Supreme Court to rule Thursday that the state constitution's right to privacy extends beyond death in any circumstance.
Lawyers for a doctor being sued for malpractice argued that the alleged victim's right to privacy ended when he died. The Supreme Court disagreed and said the "cherished" right to privacy extended beyond the specific case.
"Such a holding would render those rights hollow, chilling the daily operation of them on people as they navigate their lives from moment to moment," Justice Fred Lewis wrote in the opinion.
A portion of a medical malpractice law was being challenged by Emma Weaver, who sued Dr. Stephen Myers over her late husband's medical treatment. The court threw out language that allowed defendant doctors' attorneys to interview alleged victims' prior health care providers in private while they investigated the claim.
The court said keeping those interviews secret wouldn't allow Weaver to ensure that medical records unrelated to the claim were kept private, turning aside Myers' argument that the deceased no longer had a right to privacy.
"If we were to follow Dr. Myers' argument that a person experiences the loss of privacy applicable while living upon the change in status from alive to dead, then the secrets of that person's life, including his or her sexual preferences, political views, religious beliefs, views about family members, medical history, and any other thought or belief the person considered to be private and a secret are subject to full revelation upon death," Lewis wrote.
The ruling was a 4-3 opinion, though that doesn't mean the three dissenting justices disagreed with the decision on privacy. Justice Charles Canady wrote that the privacy issued never should have been addressed because there was nothing wrong with the medical malpractice law to begin with.