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Morbidity Reports Not Protected From Disclosure

By Brandon Sample

State privilege laws that protect mortality and morbidity reports from disclosure during discovery do not apply in federal court, Timothy S. Hillman, U.S. Magistrate Judge, recently decided.

The Plaintiff in a wrongful death action served a notice of deposition and subpoena seeking documents from the Worcester County Sheriff's Office (WCSO). The WCSO objected to the Plaintiff's request for documents “generated by a mortality and morbidity review committee examining the [Worcester House of Correction] during…2003-2006” on the basis the requested records were protected from disclosure by the Massachusetts Peer Review Statute (MPRS).

Judge Hillman, however, decided the MPRS was inapplicable because federal law, not state law, controls the application of privileges in federal court. At the federal level, a medical peer review privilege has never been recognized. Moreover, such a privilege did not exist at common law, and is not found in federal statute.

While federal privileges can be recognized in “very limited circumstances,” Judge Hillman wrote, the Plaintiff's case was “not the case to test the scope of authority.”
The WCSO was accordingly directed to answer the Plaintiff's request for documents within 20 days of the court's order. See: Nelson v. Patnaude, No. 08-40118-TSH (D. Mass. 2010).

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Related legal case

Nelson v. Patnaude