Trial Court Cannot Compel Plaintiffs to Sign Stipulations for Medical Records
When a plaintiff’s medical condition is at issue in a case, the defendant will often request that the plaintiff sign a release to allow the defendant to obtain medical records. But when the plaintiff refuses to do so, what options does the defendant have? Read on to find out.
Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a car accident, the Washington Court of Appeals held that a trial court cannot compel a plaintiff to sign a stipulation or authorization for the release of his or her medical records. Instead, the defendant must follow the methods permitted by the court rules. The case is a reminder of the limits of discovery and the methods available to litigants to obtain information from the opposing party.
Sastrawidjaya v. Mughal, No. 47777-7-II, Washington Court of Appeals, Division II (October 18, 2016)
Following a car accident, Copin Sastrawidjaya (“Sastrawidjaya”) and Rianne Matheos (“Matheos”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against Maureen Mughal (“Mughal”). Both Sastrawidjaya and Matheos are residents of British Columbia, Canada.
Mughal sent both plaintiffs a set of discovery requests, including interrogatories and requests for production aimed at identifying medical providers and obtaining medical records. While Plaintiffs stated they were producing medical records in their possession, their responses in the interrogatories and in their later deposition testimony identified additional medical providers of which Mughal was unaware.
Mughal then sent Plaintiffs requests to sign stipulations and authorizations for the release of their medical records from all of their medical providers. Both Sastrawidjaya and Matheos refused to sign the medical record stipulations, and Mughal filed a motion to compel the production of their medical records, claiming they had failed to produce all the records. Mughal argued that because the medical records were both relevant and discoverable, they had no excuse for refusing to sign the stipulations. Plaintiffs argued that Mughal could not legally compel them to sign the stipulations, and there were other means by which to obtain the medical records. The trial court sided with Mughal and ordered Plaintiffs to sign the stipulations and authorizations for the release of their medical records. Plaintiffs sought discretionary review of the trial court’s order, which was granted.
On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that a request to sign medical record stipulations is not an authorized form of discovery under the civil rules, and therefore the trial court did not have authority to compel them to sign Mughal’s proposed stipulations. Court Rule (“CR”) 26(a) authorizes only certain listed methods of discovery: depositions, interrogatories, requests for production, permission to enter land or other property for inspection, physical and mental examinations, and requests for admission. The rule does not contain a “catch-all” provision that authorizes the trial court to order other methods of discovery. While CR 26 permits a trial court to limit the use of discovery methods to protect a party against unreasonable or burdensome discovery, it does not provide for expanding methods of discovery.
The court also analyzed CR 34, which provides in part that a party may request another party to produce relevant documents in the responding party’s possession, custody, or control. However, nothing in the rule requires a party to stipulate to allow the opposing party to obtain documents independently. As the court explained, assuming that Plaintiffs failed to produce all of their requested medical records, the proper remedy was to file a motion to compel production. If a party refuses to obey a court order compelling production, the trial court can impose sanctions, but the trial court cannot compel another party to sign medical record stipulations.
The Court of Appeals noted that Mughal had the option under CR 45 to issue a subpoena requiring medical providers to produce medical records. The court acknowledged that the medical records at issue were in Canada, but it pointed out that CR 45(e)(3) allows a requesting party to secure the issuance of a subpoena or equivalent process in accordance with the laws of another county. The rule does not, however, permit a trial court to allow a defendant to bypass the subpoena requirements by compelling a plaintiff to sign medical record stipulations. The court explained that while obtaining records via this method may be expensive and inconvenient, such considerations do not permit a court to ignore court rules.
Because nothing in the court rules or in Washington case law allows a trial court to compel a plaintiff to sign medical record stipulations, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in ordering Plaintiffs to sign the stipulations and authorizations. The trial court’s order was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Case updates are intended to inform our clients and others about legal matters of current interest. They are not intended as legal advice. Readers should not act upon the information contained in this article without seeking professional counsel.