During the discovery process, parties to a lawsuit have the opportunity to seek information, documents, and other evidence from one another. It’s an essential part of litigation and one that can help a person suing for personal injury to solidify and weigh the merits of his or her case. But just because you can seek information generally doesn’t mean that you can necessarily ask for everything under the sun. A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia explains some of the basic limits on the discovery process in the medical malpractice setting.
Ms. Wilshire’s son died from cardiac arrest in August 2009, roughly four days after being discharged from Plateau Medical Center’s emergency department following treatment for acute cocaine intoxication. She later sued the hospital and Dr. Brian Love for medical malpractice, claiming that Love deviated from accepted standards of medical practice in treating her son. She also alleged that Love released her son from the hospital too early and that this contributed to his death.
In the litigation that followed, Wilshire served discovery requests on Love in which she asked him to provide a detailed history of his education. Among other information, she sought a list of the schools he attended, the degrees he earned, and the dates on which he attended each institution. After Love provided the information, which showed that he’d spent 10 years completing medical school, Wilshire informed Love that she intended to subpoena the Marshall University School of Medicine to produce Love’s education records from that institution. Love objected and filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
Granting the motion, the court said the educational records that Wilshire sought weren’t sufficiently relevant to her medical malpractice claims against Love. Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a federal court to limit or deny discovery when necessary to protect a person or party from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. Meanwhile, the Court explained that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act recognizes “a student’s privacy right in the information contained in his or her education records and clearly intended for those records to be treated with special care.” The Court further noted that, “while that privacy right may not necessarily translate into a heavier burden on a civil litigant to establish a special need for education records before they can be discovered, the privacy right certainly is an important factor to consider…”
Here, the Court noted that Wilshire didn’t question Love about his 10 years in medical school during a day-long deposition. It said she had ample opportunity to determine why it took so long for him to complete what is normally a four-year course of study, yet apparently she wasn’t interested enough to bring it up. Love, according to the Court, was a better, less expensive, and more accessible source of this information than the school.
Moreover, the Court found that the burden on Love’s privacy rights of allowing the subpoena outweighed any potential benefit gained from the information. “Even if Love was a poor medical student, he completed an internship and residency thereafter, and was a licensed and practicing Emergency Department physician six year later when the alleged malpractice occurred,” the Court said.
As a result, the District Court quashed the subpoena.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact the Wolfe LawFirm. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. We’re located in Elkins, West Virginia, and we represent clients throughout the state in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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