Saturday, November 05, 2005

physician-patient privilege - blacken the character

Grimminger v. Maitra - Pa. Superior Court - November 4, 2005

Held, doctor did not breach common law or statutory duty when he released medical information about a patient to the patient's employer. The doctor had previously sent info to the employer concerning plaintiff's work limitations. Two years later, the employer came to the doctor, showed him a video of plaintiff and asked for the doctor's opinion about plaintiff's work restrictions. The employer offered a new opinion and the employer subsequently fired the plaintiff.

Pennsylvania recognizes a civil cause of action for breach of the physician-patient privilege where "confidential disclosures occurred that were unrelated to any judicial proceedings." Haddad v. Gopal, 787 A.2d 975, 981 (Pa. Super. 2001). This the rule in the majority of jurisdictions. There is also statute, 42 Pa. CS sec. 5929, which prohibits the release of information in a civil matter where that information "shall tend to blacken the character of the patient," unless the patient has consented to the release. Pa. law also recognizes a distinction between information communicated by the patient and information which the doctor gets by examination and observation.

The court's response to each of the plaintiff's arguments was that the information released did not tend to black the patient's character.

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services