Recently, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion addressing whether medical records of individuals who are not parties to a lawsuit are protected from discovery. The case arose after a patient died shortly after undergoing gallbladder surgery. The decedent’s estate argued that the surgeon negligently cut the incorrect duct and caused bile to leak into the woman’s abdomen, resulting in additional surgeries, extended recovery, and additional treatments. The estate filed a lawsuit against the hospital that employed the surgeon, arguing that it was vicariously liable for the doctor’s negligent conduct.
In support of its claim, and per Maine’s statutory scheme, the decedent’s estate went through the pre-litigation screening process. At the screening panel, the plaintiff claimed that the safest manner to perform the surgery was through a procedure called the Critical View of Safety (CVS), and that the doctor did not implement this procedure. The defendant’s expert testified that although that procedure is commonly regarded as the safest way to perform the procedure, a surgeon is within the standard of care if they use an approach they are comfortable with. The doctor testified that she performs approximately 200 surgeries every year, and she does not use the CVS method.
The estate filed a motion to compel the doctor’s notes, with redactions, for the 25 gallbladder surgeries she performed before and after the decedents’. The defendant did not produce the documents, arguing that the records were irrelevant and violated privacy laws.