New York hospital malpractice cases require the review of voluminous medical records. Hospitals and health care providers are required to maintain these records, so a claim should simply be a matter of reviewing what’s disclosed or produced in the pre-trial discovery process. The facts surrounding a medical malpractice decision in which a behavioral health center destroyed physical medical records even after a lawsuit was pending are especially shocking. Without the records, this put the plaintiff at a serious disadvantage to prove the case. The court reviewed what should happen in an evidence spoliation case involving medical malpractice.
In this case, the decedent had a history of mental health problems. When his wife of over three decades passed away, he attempted suicide, which resulted in a December 2013 emergency room visit. The decedent was then admitted to a mental health facility. The decedent and his son, who was his legal guardian at the time, signed a voluntary admission form. The decedent was discharged from the clinic a few months later. Tragically, however, he committed suicide 10 days later.
The family of the decedent requested that the mental health facility retain the decedent’s records because they were considering a potential medical malpractice claim. The facility’s compliance chief ordered that the decedent’s paper records be sequestered. The family hired an attorney, who began discussions about the scope of document preservation with the facility. However, a new employee, who testified that she was not aware that records needed to be maintained, scanned the records electronically and then shredded the paper version.
The family alleged that the facility had prevented them from having a full and fair trial by destroying evidence. The family petitioned the court to either require the facility to furnish the paper records or admit that they had deliberately destroyed the records.
Although New York courts do not recognize an independent cause of action for evidence spoliation in medical malpractice claims, those who destroy evidence are still subject to penalties. New York courts have imposed sanctions on parties for destroying evidence, including the dismissal of claims or adverse inferences.
The appeals court in this case ruled that the facility had destroyed the paper evidence when it was reasonably foreseeable that the original copies would be relevant to litigation. Even if the defendant had not acted maliciously, it had still spoiled key evidence, ruled the court.
Mental health facilities and other medical clinics can be held accountable when they or their employees make errors. The attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano LLP provide tenacious, compassionate representation to hospital malpractice victims in Syracuse and all over Upstate New York. If you would like to schedule a consultation, call us at 833-200-2000 or contact us via our online form for an appointment if you’ve been harmed by hospital malpractice.
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