Confidentiality and non-disclosure in medical error cases
On behalf of Michael Epstein at The Epstein Law Firm, P.A.
Many medical malpractice lawsuit settlements contain provisions that ban plaintiffs from disclosing information about the cases.
Every day, New Jersey residents seek medical care for a myriad of reasons. From regular preventive office visits to emergency treatment and more, patients deserve the right to be able to trust that the care they receive is of high quality at all times. While this is often the case, there are many situations in which medical errors are made. Some of the time, outright negligence or professional misconduct on the part of a provider can lead to injuries and even death.
Silence is often required
A report published by the JAMA Internal Medicine highlighted the fact that plaintiffs in a large number of settled medical malpractice cases are prevented of discussing their situations once cases are closed. It is even found that some people can be offered more money in settlements in exchange for this silence after the fact.
Physicians and other medical professionals cite the need to preserve their professional relationships and that the lack of discussion of malpractice claims can facilitate that.
In 2004, New Jersey passed what is called the Patient Safety Act. According to NJ.com, o ne goal of this law was to improve hospitals’ abilities to conduct thorough internal investigations of alleged malpractice related to surgeries, medications, patient monitoring or more. To this end, the law essentially seals all hospital records relating to any such investigation, even preventing disclosure during a malpractice trial or legal proceeding.
This decision was recently challenged by a family who wanted access to a hospital’s records. The family claimed that a birth injury left their daughter with a seizure disorder as well as a brain injury. The request for confidential hospital documents was heard by the State Supreme Court which upheld the 2004 law and prevented the plaintiffs from having access to the internal documentation.
Concerns for victims abound
With difficulties in obtaining evidence and difficulties in sharing information once cases are closed, many victims and families are challenged when medical errors appear to have happened. In addition, the State of New Jersey legislature website indicates that there is a two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractices cases. This statute is accompanied by a discovery rule which gives different guidelines for cases in which an error or injury is not immediately known about.
Despite the challenges inherent in pursuing malpractice claims, all patients and residents in New Jersey should be aware of their right to do so. Talking with an attorney when these problems arise is important.