A. What Compulsory Medical Exams Are
Compulsory medical exams are not something you would know about unless you have an injury claim, or work at a law firm or insurance company. In Florida and the federal court system, defendants in injury claims have the right to have a physician of their choosing evaluate the medical condition of the plaintiff – the person making the claim. In the legal community, these evaluations are known as compulsory medical exams. In Florida, compulsory medical exams are authorized by Rule 1.360 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (Fla.R.Civ.P. Rule 1.360), the complete text of which can be found at this link, Rule 1.360 on page 108.
B. The Reason for the Rule
The rationale for compulsory medical exams is straightforward. A defendant who is sued by a plaintiff contending he suffered injuries does not have to accept the plaintiff’s claim at face value. The defendant can have an expert whom he trusts examine the plaintiff in order to offer an opinion regarding the existence, extent and cause of any injuries the plaintiff has included in his claim against the defendant.
But the rule limits examinations to circumstances in which a given condition is “in controversy,” meaning directly involved in a material element in the case, and “good cause” is shown for the examination, meaning expert testimony is necessary to provide evidence regarding the condition.
This means in theory that a judge could prevent an examination if the condition to be examined was in controversy, but the party requesting the examination could not satisfy the judge that expert testimony would be required for the fact finder – usually a jury – to understand the condition. But most often, judges use the rule to set the parameters of the compulsory examination rather than to block it altogether. Appeals courts have determined that judges should use the concept of “good cause” to determine the scope of compulsory medical exams: “However, it was improper to bifurcate the interrelated concepts of good cause and scope of examination. As the Fifth District has acknowledged, integral to the good cause determination is ‘knowing the particular examinations that the psychologist planned to conduct.’”
Espinosa v. D.H. Griffin Const. Co., LLC, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D857 (Fla. 3d DCA Apr. 6, 2016)
C. Practical Effect
What this usually means for plaintiffs bringing injury claims is that the defendant opposing the injury claim generally will be able to have an expert examine the plaintiff, as there almost always is an issue related to the injury “in controversy” and the defendant almost always can show “good cause,” or the need for expert testimony to explain the issue.
Compulsory medical exams take place in injury cases, regardless of the cause of the injury. In other words, they take place in cases involving automobile negligence, negligent security, negligent hiring or retention, premises liability, negligent training or supervision, and even medical malpractice and nursing home negligence.
The type of medical expert a defendant hires for an examination varies depending on the type of injury suffered by the plaintiff. For instance, compulsory medical exams for spinal injuries generally are performed by neurosurgeons, neurologists or orthopedic surgeons. Examinations related to psychological injuries or sometimes even mental pain and suffering generally are conducted by psychologists or psychiatrists.
Our firm handles injury cases in which insurance companies and other defendants in court hire experts to examine our clients. We are familiar with the limits the law imposes on such examinations, and we are familiar with the experts insurance companies and defense law firms frequently hire in northeast Florida for such examinations.