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Accessing medical records in a wrongful death suit

When someone in Maryland goes to the doctor's office, they expect a certain amount of confidentiality between themselves and their physician regarding their medical care. Legally, this is known as the physician-patient privilege, and in general it means that unless the privilege is waived, a doctor cannot disclose a person's private medical information to another individual. However, this can cause issues when it comes to filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The issue is controversial. Some people maintain that the deceased have the right to privacy even after they pass away. However, others believe that such protection is no longer necessary following a person's death. In some states, the deceased's surviving spouse or personal representative can waive the deceased's physician-patient privilege for the purposes of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, a court order can be issued to overcome the physician-patient privilege in order to produce medical records.

After a waiver, the personal representative or spouse must make sure that they only disclose medical information pertinent to the lawsuit. That being said, the privilege only covers private information, not information that is publicly known about the deceased.

Physicians may fight to keep medical information undisclosed, in order to protect themselves in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it is important to research the laws of disclosure of medical information in your state. Being able to waive the physician-patient privilege can be key in pursuing compensation through a wrongful death claim.

The passing away of a loved one due to a physician's medical negligence is a difficult and emotional load to carry. While seeking legal compensation cannot bring a loved one back, it can help the victim's survivors cope with the financial damages they incurred due to the victim's death.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Cases: Physician-Patient Privilege," accessed Nov. 16, 2014

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