After a plaintiff initiates a lawsuit, the matter typically proceeds to the discovery phase, during which the parties will request and produce information, evidence, and documents about the claim and the allegations. Although the process can be straightforward, there are often disputes and issues about whether a piece of evidence should be produced or not. As seasoned Chicago wrongful death lawyers, we have substantial experience navigating discovery issues. As a recent Illinois appellate opinion demonstrates, the resolution of discovery disputes can have serious consequences for a plaintiff’s claim.
In the case, the defendant claimed that certain documents that the plaintiff sought through discovery were confidential and should not be produced in discovery. According to the defendant, which was a hospital, the Illinois Medical Studies Act required the court to deny the plaintiff’s motion requesting that the court issue an order compelling production of the documents.
The plaintiff was admitted to the defendant’s hospital facility while she was 30 weeks pregnant. The baby was born on the same day but experienced a number of medical issues. She died shortly thereafter. The plaintiff initiated an inquiry into whether appropriate medical care was rendered, and an internal review process began. The review was coordinated by a designated liaison and involved commentary and analysis from other expert peer reviewers in the same specialty as the physician who treated the plaintiff and her baby.
During discovery, the plaintiff issued a set of requests for any and all documents regarding the care of her deceased infant. The hospital refused to disclose the notes generated during the internal review process, arguing that they were privileged according to the Medical Studies Act. The plaintiff asked the court to conduct an in camera inspection of the documents and to determine whether they should be produced. During an in camera inspection, the court reviews the requested documents to determine whether they should be produced to the plaintiff. The trial court concluded that the documents should be produced and that the privilege did not apply. The defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. The defendant refused to produce the documents despite the court’s order, and the court eventually found the defendant in contempt and imposed a fine until the defendant complied with the trial court order. The defendant appealed.
On review, the appellate court noted that the intent of the Medical Studies Act is to encourage robust, thorough, and voluntary studies about the programs and issues that hospitals encounter involving patient care. If a document is generated explicitly for peer review, it is deemed privileged under the act and not subject to production. Reviewing the factual record, the appellate court concluded that the privilege did not apply because the records were created prior to the initiation of the peer review process. The court described the documents as closer to incident reports, with a dual purpose of risk management and quality assurance. Accordingly, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s order requiring the defendant to produce the documents.
If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident, you can bring a wrongful death claim to pursue damages for your injuries and losses. Knowing which documents you are entitled to receive or to produce during discovery is an essential part of protecting your rights and ensuring that you receive the full amount of compensation that you deserve. At Therman Law Offices, our seasoned team of Chicago trial lawyers is prepared to guide you through the legal process with compassionate and personalized legal counsel. To schedule your free consultation, call us at 1-775-545-8849 or contact us online.