The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows hospitals to hide the results of internal investigations of medical malpractice. This means that in New Jersey, the patients who are injured by these hospitals and their employees may not be able to access information regarding healthcare provider errors.
What Happened in New Jersey?
The case before the New Jersey Supreme Court was C.A. v. Eric Bentolila, M.D. The details of the case have been reported on by NJ.com. In this case, Esther and Gedalia Applegrad filed a medical malpractice suit claiming that their daughter suffered a brain injury and a seizure disorder because of mistakes made at the hospital during her delivery at Valley Hospital in 2007. During the course of the lawsuit, the parents’ attorneys entered into a process called discovery. Discovery is the part of litigation where both sides give information to the other side that may be relevant to the outcome of a case. So if it were a bank robbery case instead of a medical malpractice case, this is the part of the litigation where the prosecutor would give the defense any surveillance footage that they had of the bank. In this medical malpractice case, the parents asked the the judge to order the hospital to turn over memos that were called, “Director of Patient Safety Post Incident Analysis.”
The judge refused.
The reason the judge gave for refusing was that the documents were covered by a 2004. That law was designed to keep hospitals investigations into mistakes and bad outcomes confidential. So the parents appealed the judge’s decision, and an appellate court agreed with the parents. The appellate court reasoned that because the hospital had not created these documents as part of a specific investigation process approved of by the state’s Health Department, the document was not covered by the 2004 law. But then the state Supreme Court disagreed.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Holding
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court because the Health Department’s regulations were written four years after the 2004 law went into effect. One of the sponsors of the 2004 law that allows hospitals to hide information from the patients they injure applauded the high court’s decision. State Senator Joseph Vitale said, “When I wrote the act, I wanted to create a mechanism where hospital patient safety committees could freely discuss medical errors and address possible solutions and improvements…Attorneys representing patients continue to have access to medical and procedural information and those who provided treatment. This is a necessary balance for both patients and providers.” In other words, the law supports the notion that hospitals, charged with caring for the patient, should be allowed to have top secret hidden conversations about the treatment provided to the patient,and then hide those conversations from the jurors who will ultimately decide whether the hospital or its employees committed malpractice.
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