Court Erred in Ordering Release of Medical Records

The Ohio Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial judge committed error by ordering production of a personal injury plaintiff's medical records without first doing an in camera review to determine if the records should have been turned over to the defendant.

The opinion is interesting to Tennessee lawyers and should be persuasive in Tennessee even though the physician-patient privilege is statutory in Ohio.

Under Ohio law, "the filing of any civil action waives the physician-patient privilege as to any communication (including a medical record) that relates causally or historically to the injuries at issue in the action. Natl. City Bank v. Rainer (Aug. 12, 1999), 10th Dist. No. 98AP-1170; Ward v. Johnson's Indus. Caterers, Inc. (June 25, 1998), 10th Dist. No. 97APE11-1531."

The Court explained what should happen when the parties disagree about the scope of discovery of medical records:

We acknowledge that there are many methods for obtaining medical records and determining their relevance before requiring their disclosure in discovery. See, e.g., Natl. City (identifying multiple ways in which a trial court may protect privileged medical records from disclosure); Folmar at ¶25 (directing the trial court to order that disputed records be transmitted under seal for the court's in-camera review). See also Penwell at ¶9 (recognizing "that circumstances may arise wherein the need for an in camera inspection is obviated because the discoverability of the material is apparent from the nature of the action, scope of the request, and a tailored order for disclosure"). In the end, we intend no intrusion upon a trial court's authority to determine the most appropriate method for protecting privileged medical records in a given case. A trial court may not, however, simply ignore the requirements of R.C. 2317.02(B).

Thus, the Court of Appeals ordered that the judge review the records and determine whether they were causally or historically to the injuries at issue in the action.

This is a common-sense result, and the same rule should apply in Tennessee.  Personal injury plaintiffs should not be required to reveal their entire medical history to complete strangers simply because they file a lawsuit.  Instead, discovery of past medical history should be limited to that causally or historically to the injuries at issue in the action.

The case is Mason v. Booker, No. 09AP-500 (Ohio App. 10th District November 24, 2009).