The New York Court of Appeals recently reversed the trial court’s order requiring plaintiffs in lead poisoning cases to produce detailed medical reports chronicling each alleged injury and causally connecting those injuries to plaintiffs’ exposures to lead-based paint before defense medical examinations. In a joint opinion addressing two plaintiffs’ cases, the New York’s highest court held that there is no requirement that plaintiffs “provide medical evidence of each alleged injury or otherwise be precluded from offering evidence of that injury at trial.” Hamilton v. Miller/Giles v. A. Gi Yi, NY Slip. Op. 04230 (June 12, 2014).
Under New York law, a personal injury plaintiff is obligated to deliver copies of the medical reports of prior treating providers, which recount the injuries that will be claimed at trial. 22 NYCRR 202.17(b)(1). The Court of Appeals noted that the typical personal injury case involves a straightforward application of the requirement. For example, an individual injured in a car accident seeks treatment from a doctor, and that doctor drafts a report detailing the individual’s treatment, which is turned over to the defendant in litigation. However, the analysis is complicated by the passage of time and the evolution of scientific knowledge relating to lead poisoning.
In the cases before the Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs were allegedly exposed to lead during their childhoods, and the records suggested that they may have never have been treated for many of the injuries claimed in the litigation. The court concluded that, where a plaintiff has not sought medical treatment, the rule does not require him or her to hire a medical provider to draft a report. The rule only requires disclosure of reports from providers that have previously treated or examined a plaintiff for his or her claimed injuries. But the court did not except plaintiffs from disclosing information relating to prior treatment – instead holding that, if reports from prior treating providers “do not contain the information required by the rule, then plaintiffs must have the medical providers draft reports setting forth that information.”
The Court of Appeals further considered the impact of the rule on medical causation in personal injury cases, concluding that there is no requirement that the medical reports provided prior to the defense medical examination causally connect the injury to the defendants’ products. The court noted that medical causation “is more appropriately dealt with at the expert discovery phase.” However, the plaintiffs are still required to prove up medical causation to survive summary judgment. The court denied one plaintiff’s request for judicial notice of the fact that lead paint exposure can cause injury. Instead, the court found that causation in scientifically complex cases is not a judicially noticeable fact.
The joint opinion suggests that New York takes a pragmatic approach to disclosure of medical reports and causation. While the court does not require plaintiffs to unnecessarily expend resources to obtain medical reports before the defense medical examination, it does require plaintiffs to affirmatively obtain compliant reports from prior treating providers for the injuries claimed.