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Do You Open Up Your Entire Medical History When You Sue

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from an existing client who wondered if everything in his medical history would become an open book for the defense team to rifle through if a settlement is not reached and a lawsuit has to be filed?

While you do open up your medical history to a certain extent if you file a lawsuit for injuries. Not everything is an open book.

Medical information unrelated to the condition in issue and irrelevant to the cause, remains privileged and therefore protected from discovery.

Consider this hypothetical situation:

A plaintiff suffers a broken arm due to a defendant’s negligence. The plaintiff sues.

The defendant immediately tries to obtain all of the plaintiff’s medical history going back 7 years.

The plaintiff consulted with his family physician and an orthopedic surgeon to treat the broken arm. These two doctors only treated the fractured arm following the injury.

However, the plaintiff has gone to his family doctor for 10 years. That family doctor gave him medications for depression years back, tested for sexually transmitted disease, and treated a minor stroke, from which the patient recovered 9 years ago.

Are all of the files maintained by the family doctor fully discoverable, without exception or limitation?

No, they are not. Unlimited disclosure of medical records which have no possible bearing on a current injury is usually not permitted by the courts.

Where none of the pre-injury information has the slightest causal or historical connection to the condition in issue and no possible relevance, a court may order that the info need NOT be disclosed.

As long as the information cannot be fairly characterized as “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” there is a good likelihood that the information will not have to be made available to the defendant’s attorney.

In the hypothetical just discussed, information describing a history of HIV testing or mental health issues would not be relevant to a broken arm due to a car crash.

But, a history of balance issues and dizzy spells may be relevant if the arm was broken in a fall for which a plaintiff has sued.

In short, a trial court has broad discretion to control the discovery process. A plaintiff does not waive the doctor-patient privilege entirely by bringing a lawsuit.

A plaintiff who thinks the defense is engaged in a “fishing expedition” into matters unrelated either causally or historically irrelevant to their injury may seek a protective order from the court.

It then is up to the court to preserve the confidential relationship of physician-patient in all respects except in those areas that legitimately should not remain private.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”