The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that a hospital involved in a medical malpractice case did not have to turn over the results of its internal investigation concerning an infant’s brain injury during delivery.
The court’s Sept. 29 decision could potentially impact other medical malpractice cases across the country, including in Indiana.
The baby’s parents demanded access to internal documents spelling out mistakes that were made that led to the baby suffering seizure disorder in May 2007. However, the court upheld the confidentiality claim of Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J.
A trial court judge had previously ruled in favor of the hospital, according to an NJ.com article published Sept. 30, on the basis that the internal memos were protected under a 2004 law known as the Patient Safety Act. The law allows hospital personnel to freely discuss mistakes without fear of recrimination in an effort to prevent errors from recurring.
The parents’ medical malpractice attorneys appealed the trial court judge’s decision. They argued on appeal that the hospital was not protected under the Act because it had not performed its internal investigation in accordance with rules the state health department enacted in 2008.
Valley Hospital argued that it could not be in violation of a rule that wasn’t in effect at the time the 2007 investigation took place. That argument ultimately proved successful.
Supporters of the Act told the website they believed the New Jersey Supreme Court made the right decision. They said the law was never intended to protect doctors and hospitals from liability. Patients and family members are still able to subpoena other types of records, and can also attempt to compel doctors and other professionals who participate in confidential investigations to testify in medical malpractice cases.
Medical Malpractice in Indiana
The Indiana Medical Malpractice Act specifies that a panel of healthcare professionals must review any sort of malpractice claim before it can be filed in court. The panel issues an opinion on whether enough evidence exists to show that either the medical facility or its staff members did not provide the correct standard of care. Once the report is filed, it can be admitted in court but it is not binding.
Indiana’s Hospital Medical Error Reporting Rule states that hospitals are required to implement a process that details the occurrence of several types of “reportable events.” These include surgery performed on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, death or disability due to contaminated drugs or devices, and many others. These reports, according to the rule, “shall be used by the department for purposes of public reporting the type and number of reportable events occurring within each hospital.”
The Indiana Code states that medical staff committee members conducting retrospective reviews are immune from civil liability in regard to their deliberations. (Section 16-21-2-8.) However, confidential records and proceedings “may be produced on court order in a cause in which the records and proceedings are relevant or material.”
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the New Jersey ruling will have on medical malpractice cases in Indiana and throughout the country.