Medical Malpractice: Va. Code Ann. §8.01-581.17 Unconstitutionality, Fraud, and Commingling – a Lawyer’s Exception (IV)

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Patients have a fundamental right to know the facts of what a commissioned third-party did to his or her body and mind. Patient care inherently is an invasion of privacy interests, the medical malpractice of which denies life, liberty and/or the pursuit of happiness. Because these patient rights are of constitutional proportions, they are inalienable and cannot be abrogated, abridged and/or infringed by statute or common law for the special interest benefit of those hired third-parties. The fact that healthcare providers are paid servants of the patients cuts against any protectionism. §8.01-581.17 is unconstitutional as drafted and as applied. It impacts most the class of patients who need disclosure most. It also denies them procedural and substantive due process.

Claimed “privilege does not permit a litigant to commit a fraud upon a court.” Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp. v. Watson, 243 Va. 128, 141 (1992). Peterson v. Fairfax Hosp. Sys., Inc., 32 Va. Cir. 294 (Fairfax 1993)(medical malpractice misrepresentation vitiates privilege). Moreover, defense discovery frauds are admissible in evidence. John Crane, Inc. v. Jones, 274 Va. 581, 589-590 (2007); Owens-Corning, 243 Va. at 141-142. “[W]hen deciding whether a fraud has been committed . . . a controlling factor is ‘whether the misconduct tampers with the judicial machinery and subverts the integrity of the court’.” Id. at 142.

Eppard v. Kelly, 62 Va. Cir. 57, 59-61 (Charlottesville 2003), another medical malpractice case, exposed the “quality” scheme of the University of Virginia Medical Center (“UVMC”). In 1991, UVMC’s “Incident/Occurrence Reports” summarily were retitled “Quality Reports” and claimed “generated to initiate quality review of Health System processes, practices, and procedures for quality assurance purposes.” Id. at 60. Retitled Reports were routed to various committees ostensibly concerned “primarily with health care improvement activities,” but whose membership included and/or was reported to by “risk management and insurance” and “legal” personnel. Id. at 60-61. UVMC and PLT also maintained “patient databases” and “incident report with medical chart review material in a database format” accessible by the Risk Manager. Id. at 60, 65.

Eppard found “there may be incentives to immediately commingle the creation of an incident report with healthcare evaluation by using § 8.01-581.17 to avoid discovery of damaging information or documents.” Id. at 64. Further, “since the University’s Risk Management staff as well as the PLT staff assigned to the healthcare committees have become part of the healthcare improvement process, the system appears to be designed to wrap large segments of the patient treatment review investigation under a blanket of privilege.” Id. “However, ‘peer review’ should not be used to shield from disclosure medical records not generated initially for peer review objectives.” Id. at 63. Eppard held “commingling” the “healthcare improvement committee” with legal, risk management and insurance interests did not create privilege under § 8.01-581.17. Id. at 64. Eppard ordered discovery of “Case Notes,” i.e., “an incident report with medical chart review material in a database format,” and “Database Notes,” including “medical discussions [that] list investigative facts unearthed by the various parties involved.” Id. at 65.

In a recent medical malpractice case, Judge Tench in Newport News seized upon the old scam: “It seems to be that what the healthcare providers does is they try to couch all this as confidential and say the only thing that the patient gets is the patient’s chart … .”See, 7/10/07 Licare v. Riverside Hearing Transcript Excerpt at 38.16-23 (emphasis added). After in camera review, Judge Tench and redacted and disseminated Riverside records. See, 10/31/07 Licare v. Riverside Judge’s Letter.