Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)10 Oct 98
Quick Summary: A patient can sue a healthcare provider for spoliation of the evidence when:
The provider, who may or may not be a defendant or potential defendant, knows malpractice litigation is pending or probable, and
The provider intentionally tampers with or destroys evidence to try to disrupt the patients legal case, and
The patients malpractice case is compromised, and
The patient suffers a monetary loss. SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLATE DIVISION, 1998.
A patient was suing her physicians for malpractice for failing to diagnose her breast cancer earlier. The patients hospital chart contained all of the mammography reports. The earlier mammography reports contained indeterminate findings or concluded there were calcifications present which appeared benign.
The question was whether the physicians conclusions in the earlier mammography reports were incorrect, reflecting negligent misreading of the mammography films. The court could not decide this issue in the patients favor because the films themselves had disappeared. So the patient added allegations in her lawsuit directly against the hospital where the films were taken. The additional allegations were for spoliation of the evidence.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, ruled in favor of the hospital on the patients allegations of spoliation of the evidence. The films were innocently misplaced while being removed for storage at a remote location by an outside medical-records services vendor. There was no proof of actual intent to tamper with or to destroy evidence.
If the patient could have proven there was deliberate tampering with or destruction of the evidence needed for her malpractice lawsuit, the court said it would have ruled for the patient.
The court said it would not matter if the one who deliberately tampered with or destroyed the evidence was or was not an actual or potential malpractice defendant.
It is important to note there was no discussion whether loss of the films affected the patients ability to receive competent care. The only issue was whether the patient had been deprived after-the-fact of the means to purse a lawsuit.Proske v. St. Barnabas Medical Center, 712 A. 2d 1207 (N.J. Super., 1998).