February 2, 2022

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”) stated in its non-precedential decision filed on January 10, 2022 in a Pennsylvania birth injury medical malpractice case filed by the parents of the injured infant, “we conclude that Stephen Boyle did not directly place his mental condition at issue by making allegations of anxiety, mental injury, severe emotional trauma requiring treatment, or psychiatric/psychological conditions … Rather, Stephen Boyle’s allegation of “emotional pain and suffering, upset and mental distress associated with raising, parenting and caring for [his] son who suffered severe and devastating permanent injuries,” is a general averment similar to those in Gormley, that this Court found did not place the party’s mental condition at issue or result in a waiver of privilege … Further, his deposition testimony that he remembers getting instantly anxious, frightened, and confused in the delivery room is not a claim that he suffers from the mental disorder of anxiety … Lastly, neither the trial court, nor the Main Line Defendants, provide any authority to support the argument that a party waives any psychiatrist-patient privilege by simply asserting a loss of consortium claim.”

The Underlying Facts

On June 6, 2019, the Boyles filed their Pennsylvania birth injury medical malpractice case against the Main Line Defendants seeking damages for injuries suffered by their minor son, B.B., during his birth. The complaint asserted claims for professional negligence — against both the doctor and hospital — negligent infliction of emotional distress with regard to both Erin and Stephen Boyle, and loss of consortium, with regard to Stephen Boyle only. After the Main Line Defendants filed preliminary objections, the Boyles filed an amended complaint on September 3, 2019, which removed Stephen Boyle’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but retained his claims for damages for past and future “emotional pain and suffering” and loss of consortium.

During discovery, the Main Line Defendants served the Boyles with notice of their intent to subpoena psychiatrists, Christine Huddleston, M.D. and Jane Mathisen, M.D., seeking Stephen Boyle’s complete medical records. On November 23, 2020, the Boyles filed objections to the subpoenas claiming that the records sought contained privileged information. The Main Line Defendants filed a motion to strike the Boyles’ objections. After argument, the trial court granted the motion to strike on March 16, 2021. The Boyles filed a notice of appeal that same day.

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Opinion

The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated that the Boyles did not allege Stephen Boyle suffered any mental injury, severe emotional trauma requiring treatment, or psychiatric/psychological conditions, as would be required to find a waiver of the privilege. Under Gormley, “[a] litigant does not put their mental health or mental condition at issue when they make general assertions of emotional or mental pain and suffering.” Here, the Boyles contend Stephen Boyle’s claim for “emotional injury” resulting from his caring for a child is the type of general “emotional pain and suffering any parent [in his situation] would experience.” He did not allege the aggravation of a pre-existing mental condition, nor did he claim he suffers from any diagnosed mental disorder. Moreover, the Boyles emphasize that they removed Stephen Boyle’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress in the amended complaint.

The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held: “we are constrained to conclude the trial court’s finding that Stephen Boyle waived his psychiatrist-patient privilege is not supported by the record. Therefore, we vacate the court’s order striking the Boyles’ objections to the subpoenas of psychiatrists, Christine Huddleston, M.D., and Jane Mathisen, M.D., and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum.”

Source Boyle v. Main Line Health, Inc., J-A27022-21.

If you or your baby suffered serious harm during pregnancy, labor, and/or delivery in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you and/or your baby in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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