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How does a patient's privacy factor into wrongful death suits?

Any time you visit the doctor, you have a right to privacy when it comes to your medical treatment. The physician-patient privilege prevents a patient's private medical information from being disclosed without the patient's consent. That privilege does not dissolve when a patient dies. However, there are exceptions that may allow for medical records to be released.

When someone dies as a result of negligence in Louisiana, his family may want to file a wrongful death suit against those liable for what happened. In order to file a successful case, the family will need to prove that there was in fact a death and that it occurred as a result of negligence and that the surviving family members have suffered monetarily because of the death. A personal representative must also be appointed for the decedent's estate. If all of these elements can be established, the family may recover damages to help them recover financially from the loss of their loved one.

The patient's medical records can be critical to any wrongful death case. Fortunately, the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit may attain the records by waiving the physician-patient privilege of the deceased. Once the personal representative of the estate is appointed, the privilege can be waived. However, only documents relevant to the case will be allowed into court. Psychiatric records that fall under the psychotherapist-patient privilege generally cannot be released unless the lawsuit is seeking psychological damages beyond what a typical injury would involve.

Many wrongful death suits are combined with personal injury suits to increase the amount of potential damage. In such situations, physician-patient privilege is typically waived. Protecting a patient's medical privacy is important but, upon death, waiving physician-patient privilege can be a necessary part of filing a successful suit.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Cases: Physician-Patient Privilege," accessed on Oct. 10, 2016

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