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2004 MTWCC 14
WCC No. 2003-0901
Summary: Claimant filed a petition seeking medical benefits for a low-back injury he suffered in 1996. The insurer subpoenaed the claim files of another insurer. Claimant objected, asserting that the medical records contained in those files are confidential.
Held: Two of the claims involved in the dispute were for subsequent low-back injuries and are clearly relevant to the claimant's present pursuit of medical benefits. The third involves a fall which could conceivably involve injury to the back, therefore the records in that case could lead to discoverable evidence. In pursuing his present petition, the claimant waives any claim of confidentiality to those records.
¶1 Respondent, Montana State Fund (State Fund), sought discovery of the files of Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation (Liberty) for workers' compensation claims filed by the claimant. It issued a subpoena duces tecum for the files. The claimant objected to the discovery but by arrangement with the Court the files were produced and submitted directly to the Court. Petitioner thereafter filed a Motion to Deny the State Fund Access to Medical Findings and Records. The motion is attached to this Order. As can be seen, it is rambling, unfocused, and accusatory in nature.
¶2 I limit my discussion to the claimant's opposition to the production of Liberty's files since those are the only files the State Fund is seeking at present. The claimant's other arguments appear to be evidentiary objections which should be interposed in accordance with Rule 24.5.317(3) or by way of objection to testimony at trial or deposition. They are not properly before me at this time.
¶3 According to the Petition for Hearing, the claim at issue here is for a 1996 low-back injury. The State Fund was at risk at the time of the injury and accepted liability for the claim. At issue are medical benefits the claimant asserts are due him.
¶4 In pursuing his claim for compensation, the claimant waives "any privilege or claim of confidentiality in health care information which is relevant to the subject matter involved in his claim." Bowen v. Super Valu Stores, Inc., 229 Mont. 84, 94, 745 P.2d 330, 337 (1987). Moreover, statutes governing workers' compensation claims and the rules of this Court require the claimant to disclose all medical information relevant to his claim.
¶5 Section 39-71-604, MCA, specifically requires the claimant to disclose all medical information relevant to his injury and authorizes the insurer to obtain the information. In 1996, when the claimant suffered his State Fund injury, the section provided:
The section presently provides in relevant part:
¶6 Rule 24.5.317 of the rules of this Court requires the claimant to disclose medical information relevant to his claim. The rule provides in relevant part:
¶7 Accordingly, the insurer is entitled to discovery of medical information relevant to his claim. The parameters of discovery are set out in Bowen:
229 Mont. at 95, 745 P.2d at 337.
¶8 Liberty has identified the six claims filed by claimant since 1998. The claims are as follows:
(December 8, 2003 letter of Ms. Carrie L. Garber, attorney for Liberty, to Susan Bulman, Court Reporter, copy in Court file, emphasis added.) As can be seen from the above descriptions, two of the claims are specifically for back injuries. Those two claims (5-22-98 and 11-8-99) are plainly relevant to the State Fund's continued liability for the claimant's 1996 claim. If he suffered one or more material aggravations to the same body part injured in 1996, the State Fund is relieved altogether of liability for continued treatment of his low back. Belton v. Carlson Transport, 202 Mont. 384, 658 P.2d 405 (1983).
¶9 The November 23, 1999 claim is also relevant. Though the injuries are described as "bruised right thigh, neck/shoulder contusion," the described injuries followed a fall in which the claimant hit "various parts of his body, especially his right leg, right shoulder, and head." Thompson v. Norwest Liberty Ins. Corp., 2002 MTWCC 34, ¶ 8. A fall of that sort could involve injury to the back though not reported initially. Since the medical records for that case may lead to "discovery of admissible evidence," the file for that claim is also discoverable.
¶10 The descriptions of the injuries for the other three claims do not indicate that the medical information in those files may lead to discoverable evidence. The claimant's objections to the production of those files are therefore sustained but without prejudice to the State Fund renewing its request for the files if it has additional information indicating their possible relevancy. The State Fund is may also request for an in camera review of the files to determine relevancy.
¶11 With respect to the files which are discoverable, the claimant, of course, has a choice: He does not have to pursue his petition. In that light, if he does not agree to disclosure of the three files within seven (7) calendar days of this Order, I will vacate the trial date and stay all further proceedings until such time as he does agree to disclosure of the files. That will provide him an opportunity for appeal if he so wishes. I suggest he read Bowen for further guidance as to his right to appeal. In the event he agrees to disclosure, the three files will be released to the State Fund.
¶12 The Liberty claim files relating to the May 22, 1999, November 8, 1999, and November 23, 1999 claims filed by the claimant are discoverable. Claimant shall notify the Court within seven (7) calendar days of this Order whether he agrees to the disclosure of the files to the Montana State Fund. If he does not, then the trial date shall be vacated and this matter shall be stayed until such time as he authorizes the disclosure or until otherwise ordered by the Montana Supreme Court.
¶13 This Order is certified as final for purposes of appeal.
DATED in Helena, Montana, this 25th day of February, 2004.
c: Mr. Lennie J. Thompson
1. Subsection 2003 Amendment: Chapter 464 inserted (2) providing for disclosure and communication of health care information; inserted (3) providing for disclosure without prior notice to injured employee; and made minor changes in style. Amendment effective April 21, 2003.
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