Florida Supreme Court Issues Important Attorney-Client Privilege Ruling
On April 13th, 2017, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a ruling in the case of Worley v. Central Florida Young Men’s Christian Ass’n. This decision is extremely important, as it will have significant ramifications for attorney-client privilege rights issues in future Florida lawsuits. In Worley, the Supreme Court ruled that attorney-client privilege protects parties from being forced to disclose the fact that their attorney referred them to a specific doctor for medical treatment.
This decision resolves a split that had existed between the second and fifth districts in Florida. Here, our experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys discuss this case and its implications for injured victims.
Understanding Worley v. Central Florida Young Men’s Christian Ass’n
The Basics of Attorney-Client Privilege
Put simply, attorney-client privilege gives individuals the right to keep conversations with their lawyer fully private. U.S. courts cannot compel an attorney to disclose protected information in the courtroom. This is an incredibly important legal right, as a client’s ability to have “full and frank” discussions with their lawyer is a necessary aspect of our system. That being said, there are still disputes over what exactly is covered under ‘attorney-client privilege’. This case addressed one of those disputes.
The Background of the Case
Worley sustained a severe knee injury after falling in a YMCA parking lot. Eventually, after a modest delay, she sought attention from medical specialist, and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the YMCA. As is common with many personal injury claims, the case went through an extensive discovery period.
During discovery, YMCA became concerned about an alleged “cozy relationship” Worley’s attorneys had with her treating physicians. YMCA repeatedly sought documents on this issue, but was consistently rebuffed on the grounds that such information was protected by attorney-client privilege.
The District Court Split and Prior Case Law
The YMCA’s ability to legally get the information they were seeking was unclear. A split existed on this issue in the the lower courts in the state. This split arose because of the differing ways that these courts had interpreted the case of Allstate vs. Boecher. In Boecher, the Supreme Court of Florida gave defendants the ability to make some inquiries regarding the relationship between plaintiffs and their expert witnesses.
The Decision and What it Means For Injured Victims
In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court clarified how the Boecher decision interacts with attorney-client privilege. In the view of the Supreme Court, some lower courts, including the Fifth district, were improperly interpreting the Boecher decision. Discovery into the relationship between a plaintiff’s lawyer and their doctor is simply not allowed. Any such inquiry into that relationship would rely inherently on communication that is protected on attorney-client privilege.
The court explained that any other interpretation of the previous decision would undermine the free flow of information between lawyers and their clients. This decision is welcomed news for injured victims. It reiterates the fact that Florida courts will take attorney-client privilege extremely seriously; and it helps to stop over intrusive discovery requests that might be made by defendants seeking to avoid liability.
Contact Our Office Today
At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our experienced personal injury attorneys always stay up to date on the latest case law and legal developments. If you were hurt in an accident in South Florida, we can help. Please contact our team today at 561-291-8298 (West Palm Beach) or 305-697-9799 (Miami) to schedule a free review of your case.