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Legal Memorandum: Writ of Mandamus and Physician-Patient Privilege

Issue: Whether a Writ of Mandumus should issue under 5 V.I.C. 1361(a) and Fed. R. App. P. 21.

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Administrative Law & Regulation (Federal and State), Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Law Compliance, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Physician-patient privilege violation; Relevancy for disclosure of records; No discovery rule
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 767 F. Supp. 618
Cited Statutes: 5 V.I.C. § 855(2), § 855(4); Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)
Date: 11/01/2005

A writ must issue if the records requested are not relevant to the lawsuit, and to require their release would violate a patient’s right to privacy as codified in the Virgin Islands physician-patient privilege.  5 V.I.C. § 855(2) (1997). 

Both Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b) and 5 V.I.C. § 855(4) require relevancy for disclosure of records.  Rule 26(b) entitles a party to “obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter, . . . relating to claims and defenses [of either party].”  Title 5 V.I.C. § 855(4) states that the physician-patient privilege is waived when “the condition of the patient is an element or factor of the claim or defense of the patient,” id., but otherwise there is a general physician-patient privilege in civil actions, id. § 855(2). 

No defendant is entitled to the plaintiff’s blanket waiver of the physician-patient privilege simply because he or she has filed a personal injury lawsuit. “[A]n authorization which seeks to discover Plaintiff’s entire medical history regardless of its relationship to plaintiff’s medical condition in issue for which damages is sought runs afoul [of] 5 V.I.C. § 855 and Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b).”  Graves v. Nesbitt, No. 78-152, at 2-3 (V.I. Terr. Ct. Feb. 15, 1979).  Rather, courts, including courts in the Third Circuit, have consistently ruled that the waiver of physician-patient privilege extends only to the medical records actually in controversy.”  See, e.g., Kirchner v. Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., 184 F.R.D. 124, 129-30 (M.D. Tenn. 1998) (the defendant was […]

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