Your Medical Information in a Lawsuit

If you’re injured and file a lawsuit to collect damages, you may be wondering how your medical information will be used throughout the process. 

Will it be public? How much will be seen? Who will be allowed to see? 

The first thing to know is that as of 1996, in the United States, all medical information disclosures have been governed by something called HIPAA. 

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which is a federal law to address the handling and privacy of medical records. Since HIPAA is a federal law, it applies in all 50 states, including Minnesota. The law outlines a set of limited circumstances in which those handling medical records may legally disclose information. 

HIPAA outlines protected health information (PHI) as any demographic that can be used to identify a patient including names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, insurance ID numbers, health care records, health plan information, and full facial photos. 

Does HIPAA apply in a personal injury lawsuit? 
In a personal injury claim, HIPAA allows for medical information to be disclosed, pursuant to court order. However, HIPAA only allows for medical information to be released if it is relevant to the claim, which ensures that attorneys will apply the appropriate treatment to medical records during a case. 

Who will view my medical records in a lawsuit? 
Since your medical records are a critical part of your lawsuit, they need to be viewed by various parties along the way. These include the insurance adjuster, attorneys, the defendant, and potentially the judge, jury, and even public at large. 

What kind of medical records does HIPAA include?
It’s important to be aware that, along with any physical medical records (injuries, scans, surgeries, drug treatments, etc.), HIPAA also includes mental health records. These can include any psychiatric treatment, prescriptions, and even therapist’s notes, many of which contain a patient’s most private thoughts. However, it’s important to remember that only evidence relevant to your case is admissible and that it’s there to document your injuries and help explain why your injuries warrant financial remedy.

What happens if there’s disagreement about what’s relevant to my case?

An experienced attorney will be well aware of any tactic the other side might attempt to try and bring irrelevant aspects of your medical past into a lawsuit. When it comes to medical information, it’s always advisable to rely on your attorney’s judgment. They’re there to advocate for you. They’ll be able to help you understand when, why, and which information should be released and the importance of doing so, or otherwise fight for your privacy. 

If I file a lawsuit, will my medical information be made public?
In Minnesota, lawsuits are only made public if they go to trial. This means that any medical information released pursuant to HIPAA is made available for public record as well. Settlements, however, are not part of the public record, and while medical records will have been viewed by the appropriate parties throughout the lawsuit, the individuals involved are usually prevented from releasing information due to non-disclosure agreements. 

What happens to my medical information when the lawsuit is over?
If the case went to trial, it would become part of public record. However, if your case was settled (or in the rare case it was withdrawn), the appropriate parties will either keep your medical information as part of their records or dispose of it accordingly. 
However, you should always expect your attorney to keep a copy of your case and all its pertinent details in a secure, confidential, and protected location, which will only be accessible either at your request or pursuant to HIPAA.

If you’re in the Rochester, MN area and are thinking of filing a lawsuit but are worried about how your medical information will be handled, please contact one of our attorneys today to discuss the details of your case. We won’t keep you waiting.