Phila. judge rules hospital must reveal patient's identity in negligence case

By Jon Campisi | Feb 21, 2012

A Philadelphia trial court judge has upheld an earlier court ruling that required a city hospital to produce patient information relating to a case in which a man is suing the healthcare facility and his former roommate for injuries the plaintiff sustained when the roommate fell on top of him.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Allan L. Tereshko’s Feb. 13 ruling affirms the court’s Aug. 1, 2011 ruling that ordered The University of Pennsylvania Health System to produce the name and address of the man who had roomed with plaintiff Arthur Erle when Erle was hospitalized for a surgery in late January 2008.

Erle filed suit on May 7, 2010, against the health system, Penn Medicine, Pennsylvania Hospital and various John and Jane Does, claiming he suffered serious bodily injury after his roommate fell on top of him while the plaintiff was lying in his hospital bed recovering from surgery.

The roommate had gotten up and out of his bed, and was attempting to navigate his way to the bathroom when he accidentally fell on top of Erle.

The incident caused Erle to have to undergo additional surgery, since the roommate fell on top of Erle’s still-healing wounds from his prior surgery.

“Plaintiff alleges that the combined negligence of Plaintiff’s roommate and hospital personnel necessitated a second surgery, which resulted in a longer recovery period, extensive scarring and disfigurement, and additional time lost from work,” the judge’s ruling states, citing background information from the complaint.

After the court issued its May 11, 2011 ruling, ordering the defendants to turn over the name and address of Erle’s then-roommate, the defendants filed a motion to vacate the order and for reconsideration.

The court vacated the order in mid June 2011, and this time the plaintiffs appealed, asking for the order to be reinstated.

On Aug. 1, the court once against issued the order for the defendants to turn over the requested patient information.

The defendants once again appealed the order in late August of last year. They argue that requiring them to reveal the name of the roommate would violate state and federal privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

In his ruling, Tereshko disagreed with the defendants, writing that HIPAA is not an “absolute prohibition.”

Tereshko wrote that disclosure of protected health information is permitted in judicial and administrative proceedings. This includes a court order.

“Moreover, under Pennsylvania law, the physician-patient privilege limits but does not prevent the dissemination of communications between physician and patient,” the judge wrote. “As Pennsylvania courts have uniformly held, identifying date does not blacken the character of a patient and therefore is not protected from disclosure under the physician-patient privilege.”

Tereshko also wrote that the roommate was the only witness to the incident “and therefore possesses relevant information about the course of events giving rise to this litigation.”

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