As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, I was interested to see a legal dispute over the admission of medical records in a lawsuit arising from a multi-vehicle trucking crash. Leopold v. Ace Doran Hauling & Rigging Co. was the second lawsuit against Ace Doran, a trucking company, and truck driver Stephen Stillwagon. The first was filed by Danielle Laurence, who produced medical records in her case. She later dismissed her case, and another driver, Todd Leopold, sued Stillwagon, Ace Doran and eventually Laurence. Leopold sought medical records Laurence had produced in discovery in her case, but she argued that they were privileged. The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately affirmed a lower court ruling that Laurence’s privilege claim was waived when she produced the documents in her suit.
In March of 2008, Laurence, Leopold and Stillwagon got into a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 90 in Cleveland. At that time, Laurence told emergency room personnel that she had hit the car in front of her (presumably driven by Leopold) and was then rear-ended by a semi (presumably driven by Stillwagon). She sued Stillwagon and Ace Doran in November of the same year, but dropped the case after being deposed by attorneys for the defense. In October of 2009, Leopold and his wife sued Stillwagon, Ace Doran and, after an amended complaint, Laurence. Laurence cross-claimed against the trucking defendants and they cross-claimed against her, each arguing that the other caused the crash. Laurence later moved for a protective order against her emergency room records, saying her waiver of doctor-patient privilege only applied to her 2008 lawsuit. The trial court, and then an appeals court, disagreed.
The Ohio Supreme Court took up the issue—but it ultimately affirmed the lower courts. Laurence argued that the lower courts misinterpreted doctor-patient privilege rules and that waivers are limited to the cases they arise from. The Leopolds supported her argument, noting that Laurence’s medical condition is not at issue in this case; but the trucking defendants argued that patient privacy is not served when the patient has already voluntarily disclosed her condition in separate litigation involving the same defendants. The Ohio high court agreed. Medical privilege does not apply in Ohio when the patient files any civil action. This includes Laurence’s instant cross-claim, the court said. A separate section of the law lifts privilege for patient communications relevant to “the other civil action,” which the high court found also applies. Thus, it upheld the lower courts. A dissent argued that a prior case applies to limit privilege waivers to the case from which they arise.
As a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I’m not sure it’s good for my clients to permit their medical records to be disseminated for purposes they didn’t envision. The original purpose of the doctor-patient privilege is to protect patients’ privacy and ensure they can communicate with their doctors without fear of the information being shared. A waiver for a civil action the patient herself files makes sense—there is a diminished expectation of privacy if you sue. But in a third party’s lawsuit, I don’t believe there should be a diminished expectation of privacy, because that negates the point of the privilege. Note also that the Leopolds were not suing Laurence—they were suing Stillwagon and Ace Doran, whose large vehicle likely caused the majority of the injuries in the case. As a southern Illinois big rig accident attorney, I suspect they also realized that the trucking company was more likely to be able to pay for those damages.
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