A lower court ruling involving New Jersey’s Patient Safety Act was recently overturned, setting a precedent that could have widespread implications.
The facts of the original case were as follows:
The plaintiff, Anelle Brugaletta, a 23-year-old college student, alleged that she arrived at the emergency room after complaining of abdominal pain and a fever. Ms. Brugaletta was initially diagnosed as having pneumonia. After she was admitted, she continued to complain of abdominal pain. A CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis was performed the day after she arrived at the hospital which revealed a pelvic abscess that likely resulted from a perforated appendix. A large amount of fluid was drained and although her abdominal symptoms improved, she developed fasciitis in the right thigh and right buttock muscle.
The plaintiff later underwent multiple debridements of the thigh and buttock muscles and also had an appendectomy. In the midst of those repeated procedures, the plaintiff missed doses of a post-operation antibiotic despite a physician’s orders. When the plaintiff was finally discharged from the hospital, she was still suffering from severe pain and was instructed to use a walker or a person to assist her while also being prescribed pain medication and intravenous antibiotics for administration at home.
At trial, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants negligently diagnosed and treated her condition. In response to the plaintiff’s request for discovery, the defendants identified but withheld as privileged the document known as the Event Detail History with all Tasks. The defendants withheld the document based upon a belief that it was privileged pursuant to the Patient Safety Act.
The plaintiff attempted to compel production and the trial court ordered the document’s production for in camera review. The court concluded that the document revealed that the plaintiff had suffered a separate serious preventable adverse event and that the defendants failed to report that event to the Department or disclose to the plaintiff. As a result, the trial court ruled that when a hospital fails to report such an event to the Department or a patient, the court is empowered to compel it to do so. In finding that the defendants made a clear error in judgment, it concluded that it was appropriate to release only the portion of the report that described the event which happened to reveal self-critical information in regards to the defendants. An appeal followed.
The New Jersey Appellate Division overturned the trial court’s ruling, finding that privilege does not depend on compliance with the requirement to report a serious preventable adverse event to the department or the patient and that a self-critical analysis is protected as long as the review is conducted according to the proper procedures as found in the hospital’s safety plan.
Medical malpractice can have devastating effects that last a lifetime. If you have been injured by a physician’s neglect, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian will work to get you the full compensation to which you are entitled. Call 800-529-6162 today or contact them online for a free case evaluation. They handle cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
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