One of the most critical aspects of any car accident case is the discovery phase, in which the parties request information about the accident and each other’s background. Although it is clear that certain types of information are discoverable, there are frequent disputes regarding whether other categories of information and documents must be produced, including medical records. As seasoned Chicago car accident lawyers, we are experienced in handling discovery and know how to ensure that the other side plays by the rules. A recent appellate case demonstrates a common dispute regarding medical records in auto accident cases.
The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the defendant in 2015, alleging that the defendant struck the plaintiff with his vehicle while she was crossing the street in a crosswalk. The defendant asserted an affirmative defense to the complaint allegations, arguing that the plaintiff failed to keep a proper lookout and failed to cross the street properly. The defendant also alleged that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of impact and that the plaintiff’s negligence rendered her at least 50% or more at fault for the accident.
During discovery, the plaintiff sent interrogatories to the defendant, which included a request regarding any medical or physical conditions that required a letter of physician’s approval for the defendant to drive. In response, the defendant indicated that he required a letter of approval involving a diabetic reason and identified the doctor who provided the letter. The plaintiff had also requested the identity of any eye doctor or general practitioner who had treated the defendant in the last 10 years. The defendant claimed that these requests sought information that would violate HIPAA and the doctor-patient privilege. He also asserted that his medical health at the time of the accident was not an issue in the litigation.
The plaintiff filed a motion to compel the defendant to answer the interrogatories. The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s health was at issue because he struck a pedestrian while driving. The trial court sided with the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to answer the interrogatories, as well as issuing an order that allowed the plaintiff to obtain copies of the defendant’s medical records. The defendant refused to comply with the order, and his physician informed the plaintiff’s counsel that he was protecting his client’s right to privacy. The plaintiff filed a motion seeking sanctions and requesting a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor. The lower court again ruled in favor of the plaintiff and held the defendant’s counsel in civil contempt. The court also imposed a $5-per-day fine until the defendant complied with the discovery request order. The defendant appealed.
On review, the appellate court reversed, finding that the defendant’s doctor-patient privilege protected his medical records and that the defendant’s medical condition at the time of the accident was not likely to lead to discoverable information. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s reliance on the defendant’s driving record, which contained information regarding several previous accidents and traffic violations. The appellate court concluded that the defendant’s driving record was a separate issue from his medical history and that evidence of prior accidents does not automatically entitle a party to seek medical records for the driver in question. Overall, the court ruled that the defendant’s driving and whether he used due care at the time of the accident were at issue–rather than the reason for his driving.
If you are facing serious injuries and financial pressure after a car accident, the seasoned personal injury lawyers at Therman Law Offices are prepared to assist you. We have counseled numerous Chicago residents regarding their right to compensation, which means we have seen just how stressful and confusing this event is for the victim and his or her loved ones. We provide a free consultation to discuss your situation, so call us now at 773-545-8849 or contact us online.