Plaintiff’s Past Medical Records Should Have Be Allowed as Evidence

Where defendant had the proper affidavit to authenticate plaintiff’s medical records related to treatment she received prior to a car accident, the trial court erred by excluding the evidence.

In Goodwin v. Hanebis, No. M2017-01689-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2018), plaintiff was injured in a car accident with defendant. The jury awarded her $70,000 in damages, including an award for all the medical expenses for which she presented proof and damages for pain and suffering, permanent injury, and loss of enjoyment of life. The trial court reduced the award by $1,004 to reflect the correct amount of medical expenses presented at trial, and defendant appealed citing several issues, including whether the trial court erred by excluding evidence of medical treatment plaintiff had received before the accident. The Court of Appeals ruled that some of the previous medical records should have been admitted and accordingly vacated the judgment.

Before the trial, plaintiff had filed a motion in limine to exclude her prior records from two clinics, Greenview and Bowling Green. Plaintiff asserted that defendant “clearly wishe[d] to introduce these records to argue that [plaintiff] had preexisting conditions that caused the injuries complained of in this lawsuit.” The trial court granted the motion and disallowed the records.

On appeal, defendant argued that the records were admissible under Tenn. Code Ann. § 24-7-122, which states that “medical records…when duly certified by their custodian, … may be used in any manner in which records identified at the trial by these persons could be used.” When defendant asked the trial court to reconsider its decision in light of this statute, it ruled that the defendants failed to present the records “in conjunction with an affidavit that complies with the requirements of Rule 902(11) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence,” which sets out the procedure for authenticating records and giving the opposing party notice of an intention to use such records. While the Court of Appeals agreed that the Bowling Green records were not accompanied by a sufficient affidavit, it ruled that the Greenview records were supported by a proper affidavit and that defendant had given plaintiff “written notice of its intent to use these records well in advance of the trial.” The trial court thus erred in excluding the Greenview records related to plaintiff’s medical treatment before the car accident.

Having determined that the trial court erred, the Court of Appeals next analyzed whether the error was harmless and determined that it was not. The Court reasoned:

Here, the jury awarded the full measure of [plaintiff’s] medical expenses…. Although the exacerbation of an injury is compensable, a defendant has the right to put on proof that the injury is an exacerbation of a pre-existing condition. To this end, one of the records…shows the following regarding [plaintiff]: “She states she has a history of L5-S1 disc bulge that she was supposed to have surgery for…but she refused.” As a result of the trial court’s ruling, the jury was never able to see these prior medical records and consider the earlier diagnosis, despite the records being compliant with…section 24-7-122 and the requirements of Rule 902(11)… Without these medical records, [defendant] was unable to contradict or call into question [plaintiff’s] testimony regarding her prior injuries and whether her current medical condition predated her accident with [defendant].

The Court ruled that this wrongfully excluded evidence “was significant and clearly relevant,” and that it “more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict in this case.” The verdict was accordingly vacated.

The opinion in this case leaves lots of unanswered questions for me, e.g. did the defendant cross-examine the plainitff’s medical expert about plainitff’s history?  Did defendant cross-examine plaintiff about her medical history?  And so many more.   I am reluctant to comment without know the answers to these questions.