9 Investigates patient privacy laws

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

An Eyewitness News investigation found the same laws designed to protect patient privacy are also obscuring the truth.

Investigative reporter Christopher Heath dug into the numbers and found it's not just privacy laws protecting hospitals: It's also the insurance industry.

Krister Toney is left with only pictures of his mother and medical records.

"Everything went crashing in less than two months," he said.

The pictures remind him of life and love.

"She went into the hospital on May 8," Toney told Heath.

The records remind him of the pain she was in before she died.

"You're looking at her hand. This is where they tried to put an IV into her and her vein burst," he said.

Toney's mother went into a Brevard hospital with a cold, but she later died of sepsis, covered in bedsores, which were documented in hospital pictures.

"From renal failure to bacteria that they said was into her heart," Toney said.

Florida law prevents Toney from suing for wrongful death.

Patient privacy laws also mean cases like his may never get reported to the state or federal government.

9 Investigates discovered in 2011 that 18 cases were reported to the state in which doctors began operating on the wrong body part. And in Volusia County, Halifax Health is still investigating an incident in which a doctor began cutting on the wrong leg of a patient.

Halifax self-reported the incident and in that case the patient survived.

However, nationwide estimates of patient deaths in preventable cases range between 210,000 and 440,000.

Toney said he doesn't know if his mother's death was reported as preventable. In fact, he will never know.

"She went from bad to worse in less than two months," he said.

Florida law only lets specific people sue for wrongful death. It only allows a spouse, a child under the age of 25 or a parent with child to sue for wrongful death.

The law, passed in 2003, was designed to drive down the cost of medical care in the state by removing expensive lawsuits. But critics said all it has done is protect insurance companies, while keeping many deaths off the books.