Two years after the death of his father, Fort Myers attorney William deForest Thompson, Jr. is celebrating the momentous conclusion of his most important mentor’s most enduring legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision in Charles v. Baptist.
The posthumous victory secures greater protections for health care consumers and patients, representing a herculean team effort over the course of more than two years. “But make no mistake,” Thompson wrote on his law firm’s blog hours after the Jan. 31 ruling. “The case and everything that happened in it – including the army of expert physicians and hospital administrators who testified – were the result of my Father’s work. I was honored to help lay the groundwork.”
In 2014, a circuit judge in Duval County ruled against Jacksonville’s Baptist Medical Center for negligence contributing to severe neurological damage in its patient, Marie Charles, as a result of unnecessary and contraindicated surgery. The verdict in that case was overturned in the First District Court of Appeal.
At issue was whether Florida’s 2004 Amendment 7, requiring health care facilities to turn over records of adverse events, could be preempted by a subsequent federal law providing those facilities with protections against such disclosures. The Florida Hospital Association had unsuccessfully sued to block implementation of the amendment. Ironically for malpractice attorneys, the law the U.S. Congress passed a year later is known as the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005.
Knowing William deForest Thompson, Sr.’s reputation and record of success in major medical malpractice cases, appellate lawyer Brian Gowdy of Tallahassee referred the Charles case for escalation to the highest court in the land. Shortly before his death in 2015, Thompson filed the case with the Supreme Court. That court ultimately agreed with the trial court that the state law mandated the release of the adverse event reports.
Bill Thompson, Jr. said the effects of his father’s efforts will be far-reaching. “You’re going to see a lot of rolling disclosures from around the state as hospitals seek to get into compliance with Article X, Section 22 of the Florida Constitution, which was established by 60 percent of voters in 2004. It’s the law of the land now. My dad liked to say, ‘Watch me’ when confronted with a difficult challenge. That I get to continue to watch him with this victory is just beyond gratifying.”
In practice since 1995, Attorney Bill Thompson, Jr. advocates on behalf of his clients in cases including medical malpractice, wrongful death, automobile accidents, product liability, insurance and bad faith, and nursing home abuse.