Halsey v. Hoffman
Topics: Medical Malpractice, Motion to Dismiss; Petition for Certiorari, Writ of Certiorari
Ms. Hoffman sued Dr. Halsey and two medical businesses for defamation per se, slander per se, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hoffman alleged that Dr. Halsey, an asthma, allergy, and immunology specialist, falsely and maliciously "imputed" to her and "labeled" her with “factitious disorder.” Referring to a medical diagnosis code and information from the Mayo Clinic, Hoffman described “factitious disorder” as a serious mental or psychiatric disorder that is "characterized by physical or psychological symptoms that are intentionally produced"; a person suffering from this condition "deceives others by appearing sick, by purposely getting sick, or by self- injury." Yikes.
Ms. Hoffman alleged that Dr. Halsey was not qualified to diagnose her with “factitious disorder” because he’s not a psychiatrist and he hadn’t tested her since 2013. She alleged that putting that diagnosis in her medical records, which were shared with other doctors, was tortious defamation.
Dr. Halsey filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that because the claims arose out of provision of medical care and the allegation of an improper diagnosis, the claims were essentially claims of medical negligence. He argued that Ms. Hoffman’s failure to comply with the presuit requirements for a medical malpractice claim under section 766.106, Fla. Stat., barred the defamation action.
The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and Dr. Halsey filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. A court may grant certiorari relief from the denial of a motion to dismiss only if the petitioner establishes (1) a departure from the essential requirements of the law, (2) resulting in material injury for the remainder of the case (3) that cannot be corrected on postjudgment appeal. An allegation that chapter 766 presuit requirements were not met satisfies the “irreparable harm” test.
So did this defamation case have to jump through the presuit medical malpractice requirements? Yes. Negligence claims are subject to presuit requirements if the wrongful act is directly related to the improper application of medical services and the use of professional judgment or skill.
The key inquiry is whether the action arises out of any medical, dental, or surgical diagnosis, treatment, or care. The case unquestionably arises out of the allegation of an improper diagnosis.
The DCA distinguished a 1st DCA 1997 case that held that a defamation case did not need to go through the medmal presuit process because, in that case, the doctor passed along a diagnosis of dementia to the patient’s employer (who fired her) not because the doctor was trying to impart medical information, but because the doctor was calling the employer to locate a family member to take care of the patient.
Here, though, the doctor shared the diagnosis with the patient’s other medical providers as part of his “medical diagnosis, treatment, or care.” The court opined that Hoffman would have to call a medical expert to rebut the diagnosis or standard of care. Thus, the claims are subject to the medmal presuit requirements, the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law in denying the motion to dismiss, the petition for cert was granted, and the order was quashed.