New York Personal Injury Attorneys
Unanimous Decision Issued by the Appellate Division for the Second Department Denies Intentional Withholding of Statements By Hospital During Investigation
At SPBMCC, clients come to us who have suffered injuries and/or loss due to faulty medical care received or proper medical care which was not provided. One important reason why we are consulted is to help our clients understand why they or their family members were injured. They are not only seeking compensation for the harm done but answers as to why the malpractice occurred in the first place. In order to answer that question, our attorneys obtain medical records, analyze them and then consult with the best experts in the appropriate medical specialties involved. Many times, there is additional information that cannot be obtained from the medical records or even in the depositions of the witnesses conducted. An important source of understanding what malpractice has occurred is the investigation by the Hospital or treating institution itself of the care that may have been undertaken by the physicians and other employees of the Hospital or treating institution.
In New York, there are two laws, one in the Education Law and the other in the Public Health Law, that limit what documentation and other evidence the patient and his/her attorney may obtain of those investigations, based on the belief that if there was free access to such investigation it might have a “chilling effect” on the scope and frankness of self-investigation. However, both laws have exceptions to this limitation of discovery. Both laws allow the patients and their attorneys to obtain evidence of such statements when made by the doctors, or nurses, etc., who have been named as defendants in the lawsuit. In an effort to prevent even this allowed disclosure, Hospitals and other institutions conducting such investigations have undertaken a policy of deliberately omitting the identities of the persons interviewed and/or from whom statements were taken. The result has been that the Hospital/Institution claims that there supposedly are not “party statements” to turn over even though there, in fact, may have been such statements. It is obvious that this has been done in an effort to circumvent these laws’ exceptions and prevent exposure of the truth of what happened and why.
At SPBMCC, we have never accepted these bad faith refusals to identify who has made critical statements in these Hospital investigations and have vigorously fought back against such denials. This effort has recently resulted in an important decision that was issued by the Appellate Division for the Second Department (this is the Court for the 10 downstate counties of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam). In a long and thoughtful decision, the Court unanimously held that the effort of South Nassau Community Hospital to deny access to such statements made during the investigation of the care of a patient who was treated in its Emergency Room and suffered irreversible brain death shortly thereafter, would not be permitted. The Court held that the minutes of the statements made at a meeting of the committee investigating this patient’s care could not be withheld simply because they intentionally refused to identify the source of the information which concerned this very patient. It allowed only one exception, the statement of a person who was identified but who was not a named defendant. The result is that potentially important facts documented in such Hospital investigations that may not be found in the medical records and/or revealed in questioning conducted at pretrial depositions will now have to be disclosed. The knowledge obtained from these minutes will help us as attorneys and the patient/family to understand why they or their family member was harmed, which is as important to them as any monetary recovery that may be obtained. This decision will not only benefit the Siegel family in their effort to obtain justice, but other patients and their families who are also seeking answers regarding their care, injuries and/or loss.