Federal Judge in Massachusetts Car Accident Case Rules Defendant Was Not Entitled to Plaintiff’s Mental Health Records – Conklin v. Feitelberg

When a person files a lawsuit against another person, business, or governmental entity seeking payment of medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from an accident such as a car wreck, the case usually proceeds through a phase called “discovery.”

During discovery, it is not usual for a defendant to request copies of a plaintiff’s medical records. Depending upon the plaintiff’s current condition and previous medical history, this request may be limited to recent records related to the injuries suffered in the accident, or the request may go deeper, seeking copies of all records – even mental health records – during a certain period of time.

It is ultimately up to the judge in the case to determine the records to which the defendant is entitled, since the plaintiff may file a motion for a protective order if he or she does not believe the defendant has a legitimate reason to look at particular records.

Facts of the Case

In the recent federal case of Conklin v. Feitelberg, the plaintiff was a woman who claimed that she suffered a severe back injury as a result of being rear-ended in a car accident with the plaintiff in June 2011. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, asserting jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship and seeking compensation for medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent impairment, and pain and suffering.

During the discovery phase of the litigation, the defendant notified the plaintiff that she intended to subpoena records from five health providers who had allegedly rendered mental health care to the plaintiff. The defendant’s proposed subpoena sought records from approximately one year prior to the accident through the present. The plaintiff filed a motion for a protective order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), seeking to prohibit the defendant’s discovery of the plaintiff’s privileged mental health records. The defendant, in turn, filed a motion to compel discovery.

The District Court’s Decision

The court allowed the plaintiff’s motion for a protective order without prejudice, noting that the defendant could renew her motion if the plaintiff opted to call any of her mental health care providers to testify as witnesses on her behalf at trial or if she relied upon any privileged communication with said providers to support her claim. The defendant’s motion to compel discovery was denied.

In so holding, the court applied a “balance of interests” test, noting that, in order for the defendant to be entitled to the records, the defendant must show that the interests of justice dictate that the communication between the plaintiff and her mental health care providers be disclosed. Since the defendant had failed to make such a showing, the court declined to order disclosure of the records at issue.

To Schedule an Appointment Regarding Your Massachusetts Car Accident

If you or a family member has been involved in a car accident, you should speak to an attorney about your legal rights, including the right to seek monetary compensation from the party who caused the accident. Since a failure to timely file suit can cause your case to be dismissed later on, it is important to talk to an experienced Massachusetts car accident attorney as soon as possible. To talk to an attorney about your Hyannis, Plymouth, or other Massachusetts car accident case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 and ask for a free consultation.

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