Court Rules that Doctor has Duty to Provide Medical Records
After Mary Shirey was injured by another motorist in a car accident, she sought treatment from Dr. Rex Flenar. A few weeks later, Shirey’s lawyer asked Dr. Flenar for her medical records. Dr. Flenar failed to respond for several years before eventually indicating that the records were destroyed by his medical-records software provider. Shirey sued Dr. Flenar in Allen County Superior Court, claiming that she has a private right of action under Indiana Code section 16-39-1-1, which requires a healthcare provider to supply a patient’s medical records upon request by the patient. Shirey also asserted that, because Dr. Flenar lost or destroyed the records, she has a claim for third-party spoliation of evidence, because without the records she was unable to fully prove her personal-injury claim stemming from the accident.
The trial court granted Dr. Flenar summary judgment on both claims because he claimed that it was not him who destroyed the records, but his software provider. Shirey then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part Ms. Shirey’s appeal. On Shirey’s first cause of action, she failed to persuade the Court that the General Assembly intended to create a private cause of action for a violation of Section 16-39-1-1. The Court reasoned that the Indiana Department of Health can enforce this statute but the Courts do not provide for any potential cause of action under Section 16-39-1-1.
The second part of Ms. Shirey’s cause of action was affirmed, however. The Court concluded that Dr. Flenar had a duty to preserve the records under the circumstances of the case and is therefore properly subject to a cause of action for spoliation. This is because of the important relationship between Shirey and Dr. Flenar and because it was foreseeable that Shirey would need those records to prove damages against the person that hit her in traffic.