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Missouri Court of Appeals Weighs in on the Breadth of Discoverable Prescription Records, Post-Mortem

January 19, 2018

Decedent’s wife filed a lawsuit in Barton County, Missouri in 2016 after her husband was killed when a dump/bale bed manufactured by defendant Cannonball Engineering, which he was repairing at the time of the incident, crushed him. Plaintiff sued Cannonball on various negligence and product liability theories.  A coroner’s two post-mortem blood samples, collected on the date of decedent’s death, revealed reportable amounts of opioid prescription pain medication.

Cannonball served discovery, seeking information on decedent’s prescription medications for about six years prior to his death.  Plaintiff objected that the request was overbroad as to time and scope, and violated the decedent’s physician-patient privilege.  Cannonball moved to compel the production of records. 

Plaintiff argued that the only physical or medical condition identified in Plaintiff’s Petition was the crushing injury that killed decedent; that case law only entitles a defendant to medical records that relate to physical conditions put in issue by the Plaintiff’s pleading; and that any discovery in excess of this scope amounts also to a violation of the physician-patient privilege.

Cannonball argued that it was entitled the information because it was relevant to: (1) the impact the prescription pain medications may have had on decedent’s abilities around the time of his death; and (2) Cannonball’s affirmative defense of comparative fault (i.e., the decedent knew that it was unsafe to consume the medications and then operate heavy equipment, but negligently did so anyway).  Cannonball also argued that the information was discoverable because Plaintiff alleged failure to warn and thereby impliedly asserted that decedent had the mental capacity to appreciate the warnings on the dump/bale at the time of the accident. 

The trial judge sustained Cannonball’s Motion to Compel and ordered Plaintiff to execute the requested authorization for decedent’s prescription medications.  Plaintiff applied for a writ of prohibition to block the trial court’s order.

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District granted the writ, concluding that the trial court had abused its discretion.  The Court of Appeals noted that the physician-patient privilege remains intact until a plaintiff’s physical condition – as put in issue by the pleadings -  is waived.

The Court of Appeals held that Plaintiff’s allegations placed decedent’s cognitive function at the time of the incident at issue and waived his physician-patient privilege with respect to records that related to the issue of his mental capacity at or around the time of his death.  On this basis, Cannonball, who alleged that decedent may have been cognitively impaired at the time of his death, was entitled to discover decedent’s prescription medication records at or near the event.  But there was no justification for the trial court to allow discovery of nearly six years of prescription records, when decedent’s mental capacity only at or around the time of the incident was at issue. 
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The BSCR Missouri Law Blog examines significant developments, trends and changes in Missouri law on a broad range of topics of interest to Missouri practitioners and attorneys and businesses with disputes subject to Missouri law. Learn more about the editor, David Eisenberg.

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