Thursday, June 30, 2011

Judge Carmen D. Minora of Lackawanna County Allows Discovery of Incident Report in Hospital Trip and Fall Case

Judge Carmen D. Minora recently issued an Opinion on the discoverability of hospital documents, such as an incident report, pertaining to a trip and fall incident in the case of Morgan v. Community Medical Center Healthcare System, No. 2008-CV-4859 (Lacka. Co. June 14, 2011, Minora, J.).

In Morgan, the Plaintiff had previously been in a motorcycle collision and was being treated in the hospital for injuries to his arm and legs. While being treated in the hospital’s emergency department for these injuries, the Plaintiff was given an IV dose of morphine.

At some point thereafter, the Plaintiff exited the emergency room without assistance or wheelchair. He fell on the concrete and struck his head and was re-admitted to the hospital with a head injury.

According to the Opinion, the circumstances under which the Plaintiff exited the hospital involve a major dispute between the parties. The Plaintiff alleges that he was discharged after receiving the IV morphine without any precautions. The Defendant hospital asserts that the Plaintiff demanded to leave the hospital against medical advice and refused a wheelchair when offered.

At issue in this matter was the Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel the Defendant hospital to produce an “Incident Report” prepared by the Defendant related to this event. The Plaintiff initially proceeded before the Lackawanna County Special Trial Master, Richard S. Campagna, who deemed the Incident Report discoverable. The Plaintiff appealed for a De Novo Review of the Special Trial Master’s decision and the case came before Judge Minora.

Judge Minora noted generally that the legal standards of discovery in Pennsylvania are to be liberally and generously construed to prevent surprise and unfairness and to allow a fair trial on the merits. He also noted that, if any conceivable basis exists upon which a discovery request is permissible, a motion to compel such discovery must be granted. Judge Minora additionally noted that, under Pennsylvania law, limitations on the scope of discovery are to be narrowly construed.

Judge Minora first rejected the Defendant hospital’s argument that the disclosure of the incident report was prohibited by Pennsylvania’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act.  The Defendant had attempted to assert that, since the document at issue was prepared for the purpose of compliance with the Patient Safety Act, which is contained within the MCARE Act, such documents were not discoverable.

However, Judge Minora noted that the Defendant did not meet its burden of showing that the document was created “solely” for the purpose of compliance with the Patient Safety Act. The incident report was found to arguably have been prepared by the hospital for multiple purposes including insurance, filings, police reports, etc. Since this document may have been produced for multiple purposes other than compliance with the Patient Safety Act, the court found that the document lost its privileged status.

Judge Minora also found that the Defendant Hospital failed to meet its burden of showing that the disclosure of the incident report was prohibited under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005. Again, it Court found that since there may have been reasons other than creating the document for a patient safety evaluation system in the hospital, the document lost its alleged privilege status, even if the report was ultimately presented to a patient safety organization for patient safety purposes.

As such, reiterating the liberal standards governing discovery and the preference to narrowing construe any limitations thereon, the court found that the incident report was indeed discoverable.

Judge Minora also rejected the Defendant’s requests for permission to file an interlocatory appeal on the issue, finding that the issue did not meet the standard for such an appeal as set forth under 42 Pa. C.S. §702(b).

Anyone desiring a copy of this opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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