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Utah Supreme Court Rules Injured Plaintiff May Not Be Compelled to Release Records – Rahofy v. Steadman Land & Livestock

By October 12, 2012Auto Accidents

As a Missouri auto accident lawyer, I was interested to see a case about the release of personal records. This can be a touchy issue for many injured plaintiffs who prefer not to open their past medical, employment or other records to a court that is a public forum. However, courts may compel the release of records if they are required for the case to be fairly decided. In Rahofy v. Steadman Land & Livestock, Sabrina Rahofy declined to sign authorization to release twenty years of her medical and employment records, in support of a lawsuit stemming from an auto accident with Lynn Steadman and, via vicarious liability, her company. The Utah Supreme Court ultimately agreed with an appeals ruling saying Steadman didn’t follow proper procedures in serving the requests.
Rahofy was on a cross-country drive, moving from Illinois to California, when she got into a car accident with Lynn Steadman. Steadman was on work-related business at the time, near Cedar City, Utah. Rahofy later filed suit, alleging injuries to her back, neck, shoulder, knee, ankles and foot. She turned over current medical providers’ information when she filed, but Steadman requested further information on her medical care and income, including the names and addresses of all doctors and employers for the past 20 years. Rahofy provided all the information available to her, but declined to sign authorizations permitting Steadman to directly obtain the records. Steadman moved to compel the authorizations, and the trial court held a hearing, then agreed to compel Rahofy to sign. Rahofy then filed an interlocutory appeal to the Utah Court of Appeals. That court found that the signatures should not be compelled because the request was very broad and there was no attempt to show Rahofy had control of the requested documents.
Steadman appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, but that court upheld the appellate ruling. The high court started by ruling that the appeals court did not err when it said Steadman didn’t establish that its requests for the records were valid. Rule 34 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure requires that these requests be served; a mere letter is not enough. As a result, Rahofy was not required to agree to sign over her records. The Supreme Court then went on to affirm the ruling that authorization should not have been compelled. Because the request for the records was in a letter and not a properly served request, the high court said, there were no grounds for a motion to compel. Finally, the Utah Supreme Court found no error in the appeals court’s recommendation of the subpoena procedure for winning the release of the out-of-state documents Steadman sought. This is the proper procedure for documents not under the plaintiff’s control, the court noted. On remand, it said, Steadman should use this avenue for any documents not under Rahofy’s control.
This discussion may sound dry and procedural, but as a St. Louis car crash attorney, I wonder if it might be a form of power struggle. The Utah Supreme Court noted that compelling Rahofy to gather records from out of state is expensive and complicated; it suggested that Steadman weigh the need for the documents against the expense involved. Given that Steadman wanted twenty years of records, some of which surely must be irrelevant to the case, we wonder whether this discovery request was made to nettle Rahofy as much as to gather information. This kind of abuse of the process can be a part of lawsuits, but our southern Illinois car wreck lawyers work hard to protect clients from inappropriate and harassing tactics.

If your family has suffered a catastrophic injury or a death because of someone else’s bad decisions behind the wheel, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe as soon as possible. For a free, confidential consultation, send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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