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Case v. Law: Ex Parte Contact Between a Plaintiff’s Non-party Treating Physicians and Defense Counsel in Personal Injury Cases

The cases below are limited to the requirements under state law. As a practical matter, to comply with federal HIPAA requirements, an attorney who wishes to contact an adverse party’s treating physician should first obtain a valid HIPAA authorization or a court or administrative order broad enough to cover verbal communications with treating physicians. Additionally, none of the cases below place any obligation upon an individual physician to speak with defense counsel. As one court noted, physicians are “free to react in any way dictated by their professional consciences, from fully discussing [a plaintiff’s] medical history and condition to abruptly slamming their office doors in the attorneys’ faces.”1

THE FOLLOWING CASES hold that ex parte contact between a plaintiff’s non-party treating physicians and defense counsel is permitted provided the discussion is limited to medical information relevant to the case:

  • Alaska: Trans-world Investments v. Drobny, 554 P.2d 1148, 1152 (Alaska 1976).
  • Delaware: Green v. Bloodsworth, 501 A.2d 1257, 1258-60 (Del. Super. 1985).
  • District of Columbia: Street v. Hedgepath, 607 A.2d 1238, 1247 (D.C. 1992).
  • Idaho: Morris v. Thomson, 937 P.2d 1212, 1217-18 (Idaho 1997).
  • Kentucky: Roberts v. Estep, 845 S.W.2d 544, 547 (1993).
  • Maryland: Butler-Tulio v. Scroggins, 774 a.2d 1209, 1216-17 (Md. App. 2001).
  • Michigan: Domako v. Rowe, 475 N.W.2d 30, 36 (Mich. 1991).
  • Missouri: Brandt v. Med. Def. Assocs., 856 S.W.2d 667, 671 (Mo. 1993).
  • New Jersey: Stempler v. Speidel, 495 A.2d 857, 864 (N.J. 1985).
  • New York: Arons v. Jutkowitz, — N.E.2d –, 2007 WL 4163865 *10-11 (N.Y. 2007).
  • Rhode Island: Lewis v. Roderick, 617 A. 2d 119, 122 (R.I. 1992).
  • Texas: In re Collins, 224 S.W.3d 798, 805 (Tex. App. 2007).
  • Wisconsin: Steinberg v. Jensen, 534 N.W.2d 361, 371-72 (Wisc. 1995 (holding that limited conversations are appropriate, provided certain disclosures are made; but that “a private question and answer session wherein the lawyer asks questions designed to elicit previously unknown information from the physician” is not permitted).

THE FOLLOWING CASES find that ex parte contact between a plaintiff’s non-party treating physicians and defense counsel is not permitted holding, in general, that such ex parte communications violate the implied covenant of confidentiality that exists between physicians and patients. Moroever, many of the courts rationalize that discussion of the patient’s confidences under circumstances other than through formal discovery is potentially harmful to the interests of the patient in that the physician might disclose intimate facts regarding the patient which are unrelated and irrelevant to the mental or physical condition placed at issue in the lawsuit.

  • Arizona: Duquette v. Superior Court, 778 P.2d 634, 639 (Ariz. App. 1989).
  • Florida: Acosta v. Richter, 671 So.2d 149, 156-57 (Fla. 1996).
  • Illinois: Mondelli v. Checker Taxi Co., 554 N.E.2d 266, 270-274 (Ill. App. Ct. 1990).
  • Indiana: Cua v. Morrison, 626 N.E.2d 581, 586 (Ind. App. 1993).
  • Minnesota: Wenninger v. Muesing, 240 N.W.2d 333 (Minn. 1976) but see Minnesota Statute §595.02, Subd. 5 (allowing informal discussions between defense counsel and treating physicians provided notice is given to plaintiff’s counsel 15 days in advance and plaintiff’s counsel has an opportunity to be present).
  • Mississippi: Scott v. Flynt, 701 So.2d 998, 1007 (Miss. 1996).
  • North Carolina: Crist v. Moffat, 389 S.E.2d 41, 45-47 (N.C. 1990).
  • Ohio: Hammonds v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 243 F. Supp. 793 (N.D. Ohio 1965).
  • Pennsylvania: Alexander v. Knight, 177 A.2d 142, 146 (Pa. Super 1962).
  • Tennessee: Alsip v. Johnson City Medical Center, 197 S.W.3d 722, 723-4 (Tenn. 2006).
  • Utah: Sorensen v. Barbuto, — P.3d —, 2008 WL 268978, *5-6 (Utah 2008).
  • Washington: Loudon v. Mhyre, 756 P.2d 138, 140-42 (Wash. 1988).
  • West Virginia: State ex. rel Kitzmiller v. Henning, 437 S.E.2d 452, 455-56 (W. Va. 1993).

[1] Davenport v. Ephraim McDowell Memorial Hosp., Inc., 769 S.W.2d 56, 62 (Ky. App. 1998).

Finis

Citations

  1. Davenport v. Ephraim McDowell Memorial Hosp., Inc., 769 S.W.2d 56, 62 (Ky. App. 1998). Jump back to footnote 1 in the text