The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in favor of the state’s hospitals last week in a medical malpractice case that concerned whether or not plaintiffs have the right to access hospitals’ internal reviews of malpractice.
The case was filed by Esther and Gedalia Applegrad, who claimed that their daughter’s brain injury and seizure disorder were the result of medical malpractice during the delivery at Valley Hospital in 2007. The couple requested access to an internal hospital memo relating to the case titled "Director of Patient Safety Post Incident Analysis." The memo had been produced in accordance with a state law passed in 2004 known as the Patient Safety Act, which requires hospitals to conduct internal investigations into medical errors so as to prevent them from reoccurring. These memos are confidential under the act.
The trial judge denied the couple’s access to the memo, citing the confidentiality of the memos under the Patient Safety Act. According to NJ.com:
The couple appealed and an Appellate court sided with the couple, saying the hospital had not conducted its internal investigation properly under rules written by the state Health Department in 2008, and therefore could not claim these documents were confidential under the Patient Safety Act. The hospital asked the state Supreme Court to take the case, arguing Valley Hospital could not be found in violation of rules that were not adopted at the time of its 2007 internal review.
The Supreme Court agreed with the hospital.
In addition to noting that the rules for internal investigations and their documentation had not been created at the time of the incident, the majority stated that the intention of the Patient Safety Act could not be fulfilled without the protection of the confidentiality of these investigations. The majority noted that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases still have the right to "sue and subpoena other records and seek to compel the medical professionals who participated in the confidential internal investigation to testify in a medical malpractice case."
In a dissenting opinion, Appellate Judge Mary Cuff noted that hospitals are required under the Patient Safety Act to "create a patient safety committee that is ‘representative of the facility’s various disciplines and have appropriate competencies.’" Cuff then noted that Valley Hospital’s committee was made up of three administrators and no physicians.