Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, September 02, 2011

COMMENT: Justice delayed

Goebel case another example of
hospital lawyers’ stalling tactics

By David Baker
Posted Sept. 2, 2011

During the pre-trial proceedings in the Elizabeth Goebel lawsuit against Samaritan Hospital, the lawyers representing the estate wanted to know the names of two other patients who were in beds in the same area of the emergency room as Goebel.

So they made a formal request for the names.

And that’s when the hospital came up with reasons why it should not provide the information.

In an affidavit in support of a motion for a protective order, the hospital’s CEO said 98 patients were treated in the ER on the day Goebel was seen.

“Therefore, someone from Samaritan Hospital would have to review each and every page of each and every chart to determine whether any record was kept of what bed they were in during their time in the Emergency Department,” the CEO stated. “This process would be very time-consuming and at best, extremely inaccurate.”

Never mind that yet another patient had died unexpectedly and in this case, in great pain, while in the hospital’s care. The priority once again was conceal, obstruct and delay.

The CEO also claimed that even if the hospital did identify the patients, providing the information to the plaintiffs would violate the patients’ privacy rights.

But the judge was having none of it.

“The CPLR [Civil Practice Law and Rules] directs that there be ‘full disclosure of all evidence material and necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action,’ ” the judge wrote in a decision and order granting the plaintiff’s motion. “The information requested need not be shown to be indispensable, but rather must only be ‘needful’ and sufficiently related to the subject matter of the action to be reasonable.”

The judge said that as long as the requested information would not reveal the patients’ medical status – such as showing that they were in a cardiac unit and therefore had a heart condition – their privacy would not be violated. Since in this case they were in an emergency department, where many conditions are treated, there is no reason, the judge said, to withhold their identities from the plaintiff.

As for the hospital’s objection that there were too many records to be searched, the judge noted that of the 98 patients seen in the ER that day, only 15 were admitted, and that an ER log showed what time each patient arrived at the hospital and when they were admitted.

Which, of course, the hospital knew all along.

“The Court finds that this information sufficiently narrows the number of patients who could have been placed within the same hold room as plaintiff’s decedent to a manageable number,” the judge wrote.

He then gave Samaritan 20 days to produce the names. He also granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel the hospital to produce information that had been requested in an earlier notice, a response to which was several months overdue.