December 16, 2019

In its opinion filed on October 28, 2019, the Appellate Court of Illinois First District (“Illinois Appellate Court”) ruled: “the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motion to compel because plaintiff did not place Kiersten’s mental condition at issue by claiming brain damage. The information plaintiff seeks to protect is not relevant or probative and is unduly prejudicial as it does not pertain to Kiersten’s conduct and actions at the time of her injuries.”

The Underlying Facts

The father of an adult daughter (Kiersten) filed an Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit against a physician, alleging that the physician’s negligence in repairing a spinal fluid leak following Kiersten’s spinal cord surgery resulted in Kiersten developing meningitis. A neuropsychologist evaluated Kiersten to determine if the meningitis affected her “cognitive, emotion, and behavioral presentation.” The neuropsychologist’s report stated that Kiersten presented signs and symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury. Specifically, Kiersten exhibited several cognitive impairments and had a change in personality causing her to become emotionally volatile.

The defendant requested Kiersten’s medical records from two hospitals she visited prior to her surgery. The plaintiff refused to disclose the records, arguing they were privileged pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (Mental Health Act) (740 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2018)). The defendants filed a motion to compel, contending that because the report concluded Kiersten’s injury affected her emotional presentation, the plaintiff placed Kiersten’s mental health at issue and therefore needed to disclose Kiersten’s mental health records (the plaintiff stipulated that he does not seek compensation for emotional injuries Kiersten suffered as a result of the meningitis). After an in camera inspection of the records, the trial court granted the motion to compel. The plaintiff’s counsel respectfully declined to disclose the records and was held in friendly contempt to facilitate appellate review.

Illinois Appellate Court Opinion

The Mental Health Act provides that “[u]nless otherwise expressly provided for in this Act, records and communications made or created in the course of providing mental health or developmental disabilities services shall be protected from disclosure regardless of whether the records and communications are made or created in the course of a therapeutic relationship.” 740 ILCS 110/3(a) (West 2018).

The Illinois Appellate Court stated that Kiersten’s mental health records “fall under the purview of the Mental Health Act. The records were kept by doctors, nurses, and other individuals who fall under the definition of the term “therapist,” in the course of providing mental health services to the recipient, Kiersten. See id. § 2. At issue is whether plaintiff introduced Kiersten’s mental condition as an element of plaintiff’s claim.”

The Illinois Appellate Court stated, “in this case, plaintiff alleged that following surgery, Kiersten “developed infectious meningitis, and the serious sequalae thereof, and suffered injuries of a personal and pecuniary nature.” Dr. Borchardt’s report indicated that Kiersten exhibited several cognitive impairments, concluded that Kiersten’s “impaired cognitive presentation is the result of her recent episode of meningitis” and that Kiersten presents with signs and symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury. Similar to Reda, which held that a recipient does not place his or her mental condition at issue merely by claiming brain damage (id. at 58), we find that plaintiff did not place Kiersten’s mental condition at issue … plaintiff’s counsel in this case stipulated that plaintiff does not seek damages based on psychiatric, psychological, and emotional damages; plaintiff did not allege that Kiersten suffered pain and anguish in mind and body; and plaintiff is not claiming psychiatric or psychological injuries.”

The Illinois Appellate Court further stated: “We also find disclosure improper in this case because the record contains some of the information sought by defendants from other sources, especially Dr. Borchadt’s report. The report contains what plaintiff describes as a “road map” regarding Kiersten’s condition before the meningitis that defendants can use to question the extent of Kiersten’s injuries from the meningitis.”

Source Sparger v. Yamini, 2019 IL App (1st) 180566.

If you or a loved one may have suffered a brain injury as a result of medical malpractice in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your brain injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a brain injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Visit our website or telephone us on our toll-free line in the United States (800-295-3959) to be connected with medical malpractice attorneys who may assist you with your brain injury malpractice claim.

Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.