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Are Medical Records Admissible in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases?

Sometimes the best way for lawyers and non-lawyers alike to learn and understand the law is to review old (but not overturned) personal injury law cases. I like that approach regarding the issue of the admissibility of medical records prepared during litigation for the purpose of furthering one party's case. There is a great case from 2010 that really does a great job of breaking it down. That case is O'Malley v. Soske.

In that case, Maureen O'Malley was driving her car down Storrow Drive on May 21, 2002. Anyone who spends much time driving on Storrow Drive, particularly near the head of the Charles, knows that there tends to be a considerable amount of stop-and-go traffic. There is a set of lights up near North Station stopping in directing the flow of traffic onto route 28, 93, and Route 1. Today, 93 N. and Route 1 bypass the stop light. Back when the accident occurred in 2002, everybody stopped at the light.

In this particular case, while O'Malley was stopped in traffic, she was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by the defendant Trina Soske. Just shy of three years later, O'Malley's lawyer filed her personal injury case in Superior Court. From the record, it appears that the defendant disputed the extent of O'Malley's injury and also disputed that the injuries were causally related to the accident. That means, the defendant believed there was inadequate evidence connecting the accident to O'Malley's injuries.

Presumably, by that point in time, there had been extensive medical documentation created as a result of Ms. O'Malley's medical treatment. It naturally follows regular medical treatment associated with the rehabilitation of an injury victim that there will be extensive medical documentation created. That documentation typically consists of both records reflecting the medical provider's assessment and treatment of the patient, as well as documentation of the billing associated with the treatment.

Hearsay is an out-of-court statement submitted to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay can be in the form of oral statements made in court, or could come in the form of written statements, such as those provided in some sort of letter or report or record. There are certain types of documents that are more reliable than others. For example, we have a business records exception to the hearsay rule. That is, we generally feel that records produced in the ordinary course of business tend to be reliable and, accordingly, we've established exception to the hearsay rule, allowing them into evidence.

We have a similar rule, created by statute, that deals with medical records. That rule provides that medical records that are created as a result of virtually any medical treatment, such as reports produced as the result of an examination by a physician, are admissible. Prior to 1988, the statute, M.G.L. c 233, section 79G, provided this exception to the hearsay rule only in regards to medical billing. Logically, such an exception was very closely related to the business records exception. But, in the 1988 amendments, this exception was expanded to include all medical records. Further, there is no exclusion of records prepared during the course of litigation, even those created specifically to prove or disprove one party's case.

That's a significant issue. Why? Because the primary reason that we have exceptions to hearsay rule is that the exceptions are for instances in which the information tends to be more reliable. That is, the rules allow into evidence hearsay that tends to be reliable. Here, we have a conflict. It is inherent in records and reports that they are created for the purpose of furthering one party's case and litigation. That type of evidence is inherently biased towards one side and tends to exaggerate or argue one's case. Simply said, evidence created for one party in the aid and in preparation of litigation tends to not be as reliable. So, why is it acceptable in our personal injury cases?

Well, allowing such evidence does make litigation process more efficient and all such evidence could be admitted into evidence with the aid of the individual paired such records. So, for every Massachusetts personal injury case we could bring in the records custodian, along with the individual doctors and nurses who created the medical records. Or we can make a decision, like legislature did here in Massachusetts, and decide that these records tend to be reliable. Remember to that we do have an adversarial system, and therefore each party will have the opportunity to take testimony regarding the documentation.

For the client and the personal injury lawyer ,it is enough to know that the documentary evidence, meaning the medical records, no matter how created or when created, will be admissible in evidence in your Massachusetts personal injury case.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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