How Florida’s Discovery Rules Can Affect Your Personal Injury Case
In any lawsuit, both sides may be asked to disclose confidential or sensitive information. There are rules that courts must follow in deciding whether to permit discovery of such information by the other party. These rules balance the need for discovery with valid privacy concerns.
Appeals Court: Judge Required to Review Defendant’s Medical Records In-Chambers Before Disclosing Them to Plaintiff
A common issue that comes up in personal injury cases is medical information. For example, if a defendant in a car accident case was allegedly drunk at the time of the collision, the plaintiff may seek discovery of the defendant’s post-accident medical records to prove intoxication.
Again, however, such discovery requests must follow certain procedures. A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeals, Zawistowski v. Gibson, provides a useful illustration. In this case, the plaintiff was driving his vehicle when he was struck by another car driven by one of the defendants.
When first responders arrived at the accident scene, they found the defendant driver unconscious, so she was taken to a nearby hospital for emergency medical treatment. The plaintiff subsequently sued the driver and the owner of the car she was driving. The plaintiff also named his own insurance carrier to preserve his claim for uninsured motorist benefits.
The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged the defendant driver was intoxicated when the accident occurred. Unfortunately, law enforcement was unable to administer any sobriety tests at the scene as the defendant was unconscious. So the plaintiff made discovery requests for medical records from the hospital that treated the defendant driver, as well the local fire department’s own records on the accident.
The driver and vehicle owner defendants objected to the subpoenas for these records due to “medical privacy” and relevancy concerns. The trial judge overruled the objections. The defendant driver moved for reconsideration and specifically asked the judge to conduct an in camera review of the subpoenaed documents. (In camera means the judge simply reviews the records privately in-chambers.) Again, the judge refused.
This was a legal error, the Second District held. Granting a petition from the defendant driver and the car owner, the appeals court said Florida law requires a trial court to conduct an in camera review whenever the subject material might raise any privacy implications. The Florida Constitution expressly provides for a right to privacy, so if any of the documents requested by the plaintiff “contain private, confidential medical information not relevant to the accident.” As such, the judge in this case had to review the documents requested by the plaintiff in-chambers to ensure the defendant’s privacy rights were not compromised.
Speak with a Florida Personal Injury Attorney Today
In a personal injury lawsuit, both sides have certain rights that must be respected by the courts. If you are the plaintiff in such a case and need an experienced Boca Raton car accident attorney who will fight for your rights, contact the Leifer Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.