Medical records can play a very important role in personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff’s attorney can use them to help to shed light on the plaintiff’s injuries, and the defense attorney can use them to refute a plaintiff’s claims for damages.
The importance of medical records must be balanced against the reality that they often contain information that is highly sensitive and subject to federal protection. No matter how relevant to a legal dispute, medical records cannot simply be obtained from a doctor, or revealed to a jury, without the consent of the relevant parties. Indeed, in many cases medical records may be kept so private as to avoid being revealed to the public at all.
The Role of Medical Records in Wausau Personal Injury Cases
Medical records play an obvious role in personal injury disputes, but they can also be used strategically in ways that may be less familiar to a plaintiff or defendant.
In order to recover in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to provide evidence that supports the amount of damages that he or she is trying to recover. For many personal injury plaintiffs, part of those damages will come in the form of past medical expenses and anticipated future medical expenses.
In order to prove that such expenses were incurred, and are likely to occur in the future, a plaintiff will usually have to present his or her relevant medical records and bills to the jury. Particularly when the injuries are less visible than something like a broken bone (such as with a concussion or whiplash), providing medical records can be extremely important in convincing a jury that the injury exists. Plaintiffs also often rely upon the testimony of their treating doctors to support the connection between the treatment and symptoms noted in the records and the event that caused the injuries.
In the same way that a plaintiff can use medical records to prove injuries, defendants also use medical records to try to avoid responsibility for those injuries. First, they may attempt to use the records to suggest that the plaintiff is exaggerating his or her injuries, or the anticipated length of recovery.
Defendants may hone in on certain comments made by doctors or treatment providers to suggest that the plaintiff’s injuries are not as severe as suggested, and that damages should be minimized.
Defendants might also use medical records to try to argue that a plaintiff’s injuries are not actually the result of the defendant’s actions. For example, when a plaintiff seeks damages associated with ongoing treatment and complications from a concussion caused by the defendant, the defendant may search the records for prior concussions or similar symptoms reported in the past in an attempt to convince the jury that the plaintiff’s claimed injuries were not caused by the defendant’s conduct, but instead existed beforehand.
If a defendant is making such a claim, an injured plaintiff would be greatly benefitted by an attorney who can help fend off these often unfounded attacks.
How Medical Records Are Obtained
Every patient’s medical records are protected from disclosure by federal privacy laws known as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Wisconsin also has statutes that govern the protection of a patient’s health information.
These laws require that a patient give authorization and consent to the release of his or her medical records before they can be disclosed to a third party. Typically, this is done by signing a consent form that authorizes a health care provider to furnish medical records to a specific individual or entity. The individual or entity who receives the information is prohibited from redisclosing it without additional authorization from the patient.
In personal injury cases, if a plaintiff intends to rely on medical records to prove injury and damages, he or she will typically have to disclose those records to the opposing party. This is because courts will not allow a plaintiff to rely on records without letting the other side see them. However, in most cases, the opposing party should have no reason to see all of an injured patient’s records going back to birth. It is important for an injured plaintiff to speak to an attorney who can help limit the scope of the records the opposing party is permitted to obtain to that which local courts would typically allow in the circumstances, to avoid “fishing expeditions.”
Just because a defendant is entitled to certain medical records in a lawsuit, this does not mean that these records must be exposed to the world. Plaintiffs who are concerned about sensitive information that may be contained in their medical records can seek a protective order to have such information made confidential, and protected from the public eye.
Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.
Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.
Wisconsin Personal Injury Attorneys Helping You Evaluate Your Medical Records
If you are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is important that you be upfront with your attorney about your injuries, past medical issues you have experienced, and sensitive information that may be contained in your medical records.
Many personal injury attorneys may ask you to fill out a consent form that authorizes them to obtain copies of your medical records so that they can review the records.
At Crooks, Low & Connell, S.C, our personal injury attorneys may be able to help you to craft an injury claim that helps to maximize your chances for recovery of medical expenses, while minimizing a defendant’s access to your sensitive medical information. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact our Wausau, WI offices online or at (715) 842-2291.