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Doctor-Patient Privilege and Wrongful Death Cases

Dec 2, 2016 | Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, 136,053 people in the United States die as a result of unintentional injuries. Unintentional injury deaths rank 4 in the cause of deaths in the country. Of these 136,053 unintentional injury deaths, 31,959 are caused by unintentional falls, 35,398 are due to traffic accidents while unintentional poisoning make up 38,851 deaths.

Have you lost a loved one due to medical negligence of a hospital or physician?

Have you lost a loved one due to medical negligence of a hospital or physician?

According to the US Department of Justice, 90% of all medical malpractice lawsuits have involved a wrongful death or a permanent disability resulting from medical negligence.

What is doctor-patient privilege?

In the medical context, a doctor-patient privilege is a right of privacy. Under both state and federal laws, patients have a right not to share their medical information without consent. This is, therefore, a privilege that protects the privacy of the medical record of a patient. This doctor-patient privilege often becomes a major issue after the wrongful death of a patient. There is continuing debate and controversy over the privacy of a deceased person’s medical records.

Waiver of the Doctor-Patient Privilege

The fact that the patient has died does not necessarily dissolve the doctor-patient privilege, nor does it make it absolute. In some states, the law provides that the deceased patient’s (decedent) next of kin, surviving spouse or personal representative may waive the privilege for the decedent.

Nonetheless, many hospitals and doctors dispute the principle because they are not willing to give attorneys any copy of their medical records. In some states, public health laws need the disclosure of medical records only to hospitals and doctors, and do not provide expressly for disclosure to lawyers.

Whether a plaintiff in a wrongful death case has the right to request for the decedent’s medical records outside the litigation context is still a matter of dispute. It is also important to understand that stating that one is attempting to obtain records in consideration of litigation in the future is often sufficient to make the patient or the plaintiff’s right to the records absolute.

Therefore, bring an action for wrongful death may have the impact of waiving the doctor-patient privilege, especially if the lifetime health of the deceased is the case’s main issue.

What happens after a waiver?

In most cases, it is required for a personal representative to be appointed before they can obtain the decedent’s medical records. When the doctor-patient privilege is waived for wrongful death litigation, it is important to take great care that waiver is not overstepped and medical documents irrelevant to the case are not revealed. This is especially true if the information revealed could disgrace the decedent’s memory.

If you or somebody you know thinks that you have a wrongful death case, you need to call up the personal injury attorneys at RMFW Law at 212 697 9280. You can get a free consultation to get your obtained medical records checked out and find out if you have a viable case against the negligent hospital or doctor.

RMFW Law knows how to win cases. We know which direction your case needs to go. We charge you nothing up front. What do you have to say? The first meeting is free and we want to hear what you have to say. There is no point in speaking to the hospital staff at this point, they will not assist you.