Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Cook County Judge’s Order As to Disclosure of Plaintiff’s Mental Health Records

Jeff Sparger, on behalf of his daughter, sued the University of Chicago Medical Center and Dr. Bakhtiar Yamini, alleging that the doctor’s negligence in repairing a spinal fluid leak caused his daughter to develop meningitis. The Cook County judge ordered Sparger to disclose the records from two hospitals that his daughter visited before her surgery over his objections that they were privileged under the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (740 ILCS 110/1, et seq.), the “Act.”

The Spargers’ attorney respectfully declined the disclosure, putting him in “friendly” contempt of court pending the appellate court’s review. The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District ruled on the matter, which concluded that the Cook County judge was wrong and should have restricted the use of the privileged medical records under the Act.

The surgery that was complained about took place on March 30, 2015. At an April 27, 2015 follow-up visit, Dr. Yamini confirmed the leaking of the spinal fluid and instructed his staff to “overstitch” the surgical wound. Although Dr. Yamini told the Sparger family that their daughter needed to be admitted to the hospital, she was not because of a nurses’ strike. After a pouch developed at the wound site, the Sparger daughter developed a fever and significant neck pain. Thereafter, Dr. Yamini surgically repaired the spinal fluid leak.

The Spargers did turn over a neuropsychologist’s report. However, during discovery, Edward Hospital and DuPage Medical Group declined to release the girl’s medical records because the records contained mental health information. After the Spargers released the hospital records information to their lawyer, their lawyer redacted some information and withheld others before submitting them to the Cook County judge for an in-camera inspection.

The appeals panel said the case was similar to a 2002 Illinois Appellate Court decision in Reda v. Advocate Health Care, a case involving knee replacement surgery, which established that “a recipient does not place his or her mental condition at issue merely by claiming brain damage.”

According to the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision, the neuropsychologist’s “report indicated (the daughter) exhibited several cognitive impairments, concluded (her) “‘impaired cognitive presentation as a result of her recent episode of meningitis’ and that (she) presents with signs and symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury.”

Because the allegations were of a surgical error caused by a fluid leak that led to the meningitis, which led to brain damage, any prior mental condition isn’t at issue, the appeals panel decided. It also said disclosure was improper because the information the hospital defendant was after was already in the record from other sources, “especially” the neuropsychologist’s report.

Although Dr. Yamini and the hospital cited a 2017 Illinois Third District Appellate opinion, Phifer v. Gingher, 2017 IL App (3d) 160170, as a similar instance in which a plaintiff inserted his or her mental condition into a lawsuit, Justice Anthony Walker, who wrote the decision, said that case was distinguished from Reda. Unlike in Phifer, Justice Walker wrote, the Spargers’ lawyer stipulated the family “does not seek damages based on psychiatric, psychological and emotional damages and did not allege (the girl) suffered pain and anguish in mind and body, nor is plaintiff claiming psychiatric or psychological injuries.”

The appellate court further said information in the sealed records can’t absolve the defendants from liability, and it would only address damages. The justice also noted the Spargers’ attorney did not waive the right to claim privacy by choosing not to object when the circuit court judge introduced the records in open court, determining he had already asserted the privilege by redacting the information.

In finding that the circuit court judge was wrong, the appeals panel reversed the discovery order without prejudice and vacated the “friendly contempt” finding against the Spargers’ attorneys.

Sparger v. Yamini, 2019 IL App (1st) 180566-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice lawsuits, traumatic brain injury cases, birth trauma injury lawsuits and wrongful death cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lansing, Countryside, Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Park Forest, Chicago Heights, Frankfort, Batavia, Beecher, Round Lake Beach, Lake Bluff, Highland Park, Highwood, Long Grove, Barrington, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Chicago (Logan Square, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Uptown, Bronzeville, Little Village, Back of the Yards, Ravenswood, Edgewater), Evanston, Buffalo Grove, Vernon Hills, Wheeling and Libertyville, Ill.

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