The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that individuals who file a hospital malpractice lawsuit in NJ shall not be granted access to investigative hospital records into what mistakes were possibly committed. The law aims to encourage health care workers to learn from and prevent future medical errors.
The ruling was rendered in a med mal case brought by Esther and Gedalia Applegrad, who were suing Ridgewood’s Valley Hospital for alleged negligence that caused their child to suffer serious brain injury. The plaintiffs argued that a series of missteps in the delivery room was the direct cause of their daughter’s birth injury and petitioned the judge to order the defendant to provide its “Director of Patient Safety Post Incident Analysis.”
The trial judge determined that these documents were to be kept private under the Patient Safety Act — legislation enacted in 2004 that protects the internal investigations a hospital makes in the wake of adverse patient outcomes. These internal records are intended to help avert future mistakes.
NJ hospital malpractice lawsuits face new challenges
Esther and Gedalia Applegrad appealed the decision and an Appellate court sided with the claimants, on the basis that the defendant hospital had not performed its investigation abiding by the terms stipulated by the Health Department in 2008, and as such could not fall under the umbrella of the Patient Safety Act.
The hospital petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lawsuit, claiming that during its 2007 internal review, these rules had not yet been enforced. The NJ Supreme Court sided with the hospital in a 4-3 decision.
However, three Supreme Court judges disagreed with the ruling, writing that hospitals are supposed to form a patient safety committee which is “representative of the facility’s various disciplines and have appropriate competencies.”
The CEO and president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, which promoted the passage of the Patient Safety Act, said the purpose of the law was never to “shield the doctor or a hospital from liability.”
Senator Joseph Vitale, (Middlesex), another Patient Protection Act sponsor, agreed with the state Supreme Court ruling. “When I wrote the act, I wanted to create a mechanism where hospital patient safety committees could freely discuss medical errors and address possible solutions and improvements,” Vitale told NJ.com. “Attorneys representing patients continue to have access to medical and procedural information and those who provided treatment. This is a necessary balance for both patients and providers.”
As it stands, residents who file a medical malpractice lawsuit in New Jersey are entitled to subpoena other pertinent documents relating to the incident and attempt to induce hospital personnel who investigated to testify before a jury.
Confidential legal assistance from Eisbrouch Marsh
At the law firm of Eisbrouch Marsh, New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers have been helping clients recover fair compensation for injuries caused by hospital mistakes, whether a misdiagnosis, surgical error or gross negligence. Advocating for med mal victims in Hudson, Passaic, Bergen Morris, Essex, and Middlesex Counties, our attorneys also take cases originating in the greater NYC metro area.
When substandard medical care renders harm to a patient, victims have grounds to pursue compensation for all related losses, from medical costs and lost income to emotional pain and suffering. If you or someone you love has been injured in a hospital setting, and you’d like answers, please call us for a free consultation: 201-342-5545.