When a loved one passes away in an accident, those left behind sometimes opt to seek compensation for their loved one’s death. This often involves gathering the medical records for the person who passed away. In some cases, people might come up against a hurdle that they might not have expected since their loved one is now deceased. That obstacle has to do with the physician-patient privilege. Our California readers might have some questions about that privilege.
Does a patient’s right to privacy expire when the person dies?
Physician-patient privilege often extends after a person passes away. This right to privacy regarding medical care, conditions and records is afforded by state and federal laws. In some cases, the physician is allowed to discuss matters after a person passes away, but that isn’t always the case.
Does a lawsuit open up these records?
It is possible that a lawsuit for wrongful death or personal injury might open up these records, but that isn’t absolute. It is also possible that the medical records will open up in a wrongful death case if there is also an allegation of personal injury or negligence.
Are there any record exemptions that aren’t opened?
In California, the psychotherapist-patient privilege is one that is usually rock solid. This is because those records remain sealed unless the person is claiming damages above and beyond what is normally associated with the injury. California gives very strong protections for the psychotherapist-patient privilege.
Navigating a wrongful death lawsuit can be tricky, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Learning about the various methods you can use to get records is one way that you can be proactive during the evidence-gathering phase.
Source: FindLaw, “Wrongful Death Cases: Physician-Patient Privilege” accessed Feb. 05, 2015