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.
Under Maine law, discoverable materials are relevant if they have “any tendency to make a fact more or less probable, than it would be without the evidence.” In this case, the estate argued that the notes were relevant to determining the standard of care the doctor should have adhered to, and whether the doctor had knowledge or experience using the CVS method. The court ultimately concluded that the doctor’s techniques after the decedent’s surgeries did not bear on whether the doctor had been aware of the technique. Therefore, unlike the notes before the surgery, the notes afterward were inadmissible.
Moreover, under Maine state law and federal HIPPA laws, entities are prohibited from disclosing individual healthcare information. Each statute includes an exception if disclosure of the information is pursuant to a court order. However, the statutes concern confidentiality and not protected privileges. Additionally, the statute does not address the disclosure of non-party medical records. In these instances, the court must determine whether the records are protected under doctor-patient privilege. The court found that because there is no evidence that the non-parties waived their right to confidentiality, the medical records should remain privileged, even if they are redacted.
Have You Suffered Injuries Because of Medical Malpractice in Maine?
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries or died following a medical procedure or because of negligent treatment by a healthcare provider, you should contact the Maine medical malpractice attorneys at Peter Thompson & Associates. The attorneys at our office pride themselves on providing injury victims with trustworthy, compassionate, and effective representation. Through our representation, injured patients have recovered substantial amounts of compensation for their injuries related to motor vehicle accidents, defective products, premises liability, and medical malpractice. Contact our office at 1-800-804-2004 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.