Medical records contain a lot of private and sensitive information. So it is no wonder that we have legal protections in place to prevent them from being released to people other than the patient and his or her legal representative.
But when lawsuits arise, such as in a Florida personal injury action, plaintiffs seeking compensation for their injuries often wonder whether the opposing party can get access to their medical records.
Because of the sensitive nature of medical records, both federal and state law have protections against the release of medical records. The state laws governing the release of medical records laws vary greatly, so if you are a personal injury victim in Florida, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Generally, the law in Florida requires a patient to give his or her written consent before his medical records can be released.
In some situations, however, that “general” rule changes. Florida law allows for medical records to be released to those other than the patient in certain situations.
And a personal injury lawsuit is one of them.
Personal Injury Lawsuits and the Release of Medical Records
To fully understand how and why medical records can be released in personal injury actions, keep in mind that when you file a personal injury case, you are seeking compensation for the injuries caused to you by someone else.
This could be, for example, injuries you incurred in a car accident caused by the other driver. Or it could be injuries arising out of a slip and fall or medical malpractice. Whatever the event or series of events that caused the injuries, a personal injury lawsuit centers around those injuries and the defendant’s wrongdoing.
In almost every case, then, this means that the plaintiff’s injuries will be “at issue” in the case. In other words, the plaintiff’s injuries will be relevant, and often central, to the dispute.
If those injuries are physical, the best evidence for either side (plaintiff and defendant) to prove or disprove the extent of a plaintiff’s injures quite often are the plaintiff’s medical records.
Think about it.
If you were in a car accident and broke your leg, your medical records will show how bad the break was, whether you had to have surgery, how the leg is healing, whether you attended physical therapy, how often you went to the doctor, what you may have said about your pain, and so on. All of this information will be relevant to your personal injury attorney to prove just how badly you were injured. It will also be relevant to the other side to try to disprove, for example, the seriousness of your complaints. Or to show, for example, that you had broken that leg before.
Medical records can be used to prove or disprove that the injuries were indeed caused by defendant. In other words, a defendant will use medical records to try to show that a plaintiff’s injuries were “pre-existing” or that they were caused by something other than the defendant’s wrongdoing.
So, the short answer is that in a personal injury accident, yes, medical records can be obtained by the opposing party.
But does this mean that a defendant has carte blanche for obtaining your medical records?
The law has specific procedures in place for obtaining medical records for purposes of litigation while at the same time protecting a person’s right to privacy.
What are those procedures?
Discovery in Personal Injury Actions
“Discovery” is the legal process in litigation that allows both parties to obtain evidence in support of their claims. It is an essential part of any personal injury action because it allows the plaintiff to investigate the defendant’s claims of lack of wrongdoing, and at the same time allows the defendant to investigate the plaintiff’s claims of injury.
There are a number of discovery tools available to parties to a litigation. However, the most relevant one for purposes of a personal injury claim and the subject of this post, is obtaining medical records.
Florida’s constitution protects a person’s privacy rights, including medical records. This right is not absolute, however. In litigation, the courts must balance this right of privacy against an opposing party’s right to prepare his or her case for trial.
To determine whether medical records sought should be released to an opposing party, the court weighs the relevancy of the material being sought against a plaintiff’s privacy rights.
Before a request for medical records will be granted, the court must find that the medical records sought by an opposing party are relevant to the issues in the case. Overly broad requests, requests for privileged information, or discovery requests that serve only to embarrass, oppress, or annoy a plaintiff, will be denied.
As a further precaution against the release of private medical information, when objected to, medical records must be reviewed by the court in camera (in the judge’s chambers) before they can be released in order to ensure that sensitive material not relevant to the case is not being released to the opposing party.
Can Defendant in a Personal Injury Action Get Your Medical Records?
As you can see from the information above, the short answer to this question is “yes.”
…just because you are a plaintiff in a personal injury action does not mean that the defendant (or insurance company for that matter) can have, or has a right to, all of your medical records. You do not lose all of your constitutional privacy rights simply because you are seeking recompense for your injuries.
Before you release your medical records in Florida, seek the advice of our experienced personal injury attorneys.
Florida Personal Injury Attorney
Our attorneys are here to help injured individuals obtain the compensation they deserve. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact us here or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.