Invasion of Privacy: Medical Records, In Camera Inspection

Mcenany v. Ryan, ___ So. 3d ___, 35 Fla. L. Weekly D2222 (Fla. 4th DCA 10/6/10)

The plaintiff in a personal injury case sought to prove that the defendant was impaired at the time of their motor vehicle accident because he had consumed alcohol and Ritalin.  As a result, the plaintiff subpoenaed the defendant’s medical records, and the trial court denied the defendant’s objections to the subpoenas and his request for an in camera inspection.  The appellate court granted the defendant’s petition for certiorari and quashed the trial court’s order. “Because [the plaintiff] has not shown the link between most of the subpoenaed physician records and [the defendant’s] medical condition and drug ingestion on the date of the accident, an in camera inspection of the records is warranted to protect [the defendant’s] privacy right in his medical records and ‘to determine whether there is good cause for disclosure, such that the need for the information outweighs the possible harm to [the defendant].’”  Although the appellate court sympathized with the burden conducting an in camera inspection would impose on a trial court with an “exploding docket,” the trial court could “substantially reduce, or even eliminate, its burden” by prohibiting the production of records that clearly were unlikely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, such as “the records of the [defendant’s] hand surgeon, the plastic surgeon, and most of the records of the neurologist,” who had treated the defendant since he was six years old.