Negligent Credentialing Heads to the Illinois Supreme Court Regarding Medical Malpractice and Physician Privileges

The Illinois Supreme Court is about to entertain two cases that may have great impact on how medical-malpractice cases are handled. In the case of Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services, the state Supreme Court will decide whether  a doctor’s application for hospital privileges to practice at a particular hospital are privileged and cannot be produced in discovery.

In this case, Carol Klaine filed a medical-malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Frederick Dreesen claiming that she was injured after a colon surgery performed by the doctor. Klaine also filed a claim against Southern Illinois Hospital Services alleging negligent credentialing of Dr. Dreesen.

During the discovery process, Klaine wanted the documents that Dr. Dreesen submitted as part of his application for staff privileges at Southern Illinois Hospital. The documents requested included information about his work history, claims history and insurance history, as well as the history of decisions and recommendations on his prior applications for hospital privileges.

The hospital opposed the production of these documents claiming that the application documents were privileged under the Illinois Health Care Professional Credentials Data Collection Act, 420 ILCS 517/15(h).

The circuit court judge entertained an in camera examination of those documents and then ruled that they were not privileged and ordered the hospital to produce the records. The hospital resisted that order and instead was found in “friendly contempt” and filed an interlocutory appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(5).

The Illinois Appellate Court for the 5th District affirmed the trial judge’s decision on the document issue. The 5th District found that the act states that credentialing information is “confidential” — not that it is privileged from discovery. The court also noted that discovery privileges are disfavored and must be strictly construed.

In contrast, the court found that the Medical Studies Act, 735 ILCS 5/8-2102, provides that qualifying documents are privileged and “not discoverable” in any action of any kind in any court. However, the 5th District panel chose not to follow the 1st District Appellate Court’s decision in TTX Co. v. Whitley, 295 Ill.App.3d 548, 555 (1998), where the court construed a similarly worded statute, an income tax statute, as protecting confidential information from disclosure unless specifically authorized elsewhere in the statute.

The issue before the Illinois Supreme Court as argued by the hospital is that the distinction between the words “confidential” and “privilege” were taken on their face and not interpreted within the meaning of the act as a whole.  The Supreme Court’s decision in this case, the Klaine case, depending on how it comes down could lead to an increase in the number of negligent credentialing claims filed against hospitals in a medical negligence setting because the credentialing documents may be found to be discoverable and thus used to prove a case of negligent credentialing of doctors where appropriate. It is not certain when the Supreme Court will render its opinion in this important case.

Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services, No. 118217.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence lawsuits, birth injury cases and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including New Lenox, Tinley Park, Schaumburg, Naperville, Schiller Park, Palatine, Palos Heights, Kenilworth, Rosemont, Chicago (Wicker Park, Rogers Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park), Vernon Hills and Buffalo Grove, Ill.

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