On August 10, 2011, the Fourth District Court of Appeals supported one litigant’s huge discovery request on the treating physician. The case (Katzman v. Rediron, No. 4D11-1290, August 10, 2011) arose with the following facts:
1. The doctor agreed to treat the patient under a letter of protection (LOP), which means the doctor would be paid out of the recovery of a lawsuit, not from health insurance proceeds;
2. The doctor allegedly performed a “controversial” surgical procedure, so Rediron’s lawyers wanted to know all sorts of information about how often he has ordered discectomies over the past four years and what he charged in litigation and non-litigation cases;
3. The doctor’s lawyer tried to block Rediron’s discovery request on the grounds that it would be a huge undertaking;
4. The trial court supported the discovery request, which was upheld on appeal.
The court’s analysis is interesting and instructive. The court found the treating physician to be BOTH a fact witness (because he treated the patient) and an expert witness (because he gives opinion testimony re the patient’s condition and injury). The court used their characterization of the doctor as a “hybrid” witness in order to support the trial court’s decision, which granted broad discovery on the issue of the reasonableness of the procedure’s cost and its necessity.
Discovery is something that can be used to harass and press someone into settlement. Hence, there are guidelines directed to ensuring that discovery requests are reasonable. That said, physicians who treat patients in lawsuits have a unique role that may expose them to greater than normal discovery requests.
Moreover, with this opinion, the old argument in bodily injury cases “What does reasonableness and necessity matter. It’s a BI lawsuit” will likely hold less water as all payers (including those who pay in BI lawsuits) are looking to reduce costs.