Submitted: October 8, 2014
Robert C. Collins, Esq., Schwartz & Schwartz, Dover, Delaware. Attorney for Plaintiff.
Matthew E. O'Bryne, Esq., Casarino, Christman, Shalk, Ransom & Doss, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Defendants.
James T. Vaughn, Jr. President Judge
Upon consideration of the defendants' Motion for Reconsideration of Commissioner's Order, the plaintiff's opposition, and the record of the case, it appears that:
1. The defendants, Briana Slater, Mark Slater, and April Slater, have filed a motion to reconsider a Commissioner's decision which denied the defendants' motion to compel the plaintiff to provide discovery concerning certain mental health treatment experienced by the plaintiff.
2. On March 29, 2013, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendants alleging injuries resulting from a car accident that occurred on March 31, 2011. The complaint contends that the accident occurred when Briana Slater, driving southbound on Peachtree Run, failed to stop at a stop sign at Irish Hill Road and drove her car into the plaintiff's path of travel, causing the plaintiff to hit Briana Slater's driver side. The plaintiff alleges that Briana Slater is the sole cause of the accident and claims damages which include "conscious pain and suffering, " "loss of enjoyment, " and "physical injury." The defendants dispute liability and the nature and extend of the plaintiff's damages.
3. It appears that the plaintiff was admitted to Meadow Wood Behavioral HealthSystem, a psychiatric facility, on or about March 22, 2011, nine days prior to the accident. He was released between that date and the date of the accident. It further appears that the plaintiff was then treated at Meadow Wood at some point after the accident, although the date or dates do not appear to be in the record.
4. On September 20, 2013, the defendants filed a motion to compel the plaintiff to produce medical records from Meadow Wood. The defendants contended that the plaintiff's mental state at the time of and following the accident are relevant to determining whether the plaintiff's conduct contributed to the accident and the nature and extent of his injuries. The plaintiff opposed the motion, contending that Delaware Rule of Evidence 503(b),  the mental health care provider-patient privilege, was not waived and that any mental health records were absolutely privileged and not discoverable.
5. The motion to compel was heard by a Superior Court Commissioner. The Commissioner denied the motion. The defendants filed a motion for reconsideration of the Commissioner's order pursuant to Superior Court Rule 132.
6. Superior Court Rule 132(a)(3)(iv) provides that a judge may reconsider an order issued by a Commissioner on non case-dispositive matters only where the movant demonstrates that the Commissioner's order is based upon findings of fact that are clearly erroneous, or is contrary to law, or is an abuse of discretion.
7. The defendants contend that the Commissioner's order is contrary to law because filing a personal injury action waives the plaintiff's privilege as to all relevant medical information; that the plaintiff has relied on facts regarding his mental health in order to establish his claims and defenses, and in doing so has waived his mental health privilege under Rule 503(d)(3); that the plaintiff has expressly claimed that his mental health treatment and history had no role in causing the accident, which is a waiver of the privilege; that the plaintiff waived his Rule 503 privilege when he signed and delivered a medical records waiver, which included psychiatric records, to his lawyer; and that public policy requires that the plaintiff cannot waive his Rule 503 privilege for his own benefit and then seek to use the same privilege to deny the defendants from discovering the same information.
8. The plaintiff contends that he took deliberate steps to maintain his Rule 503 privilege in order to protect his medical information; that he purposely decided not to seek emotional or psychological damages in order to preserve his provider/patient privilege as it relates to his mental health treatment; that his mental state is not at issue and his claim is specifically limited to physical injuries; that the medical authorization given to his attorney does not have any effect on his waiver of Rule 503 because his attorney never requested or viewed mental health ...