Appellate Update AMLA - Discovery of Insurance Limits - Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege - § 22-21-8, Ala. Code 1975 Incident Reports - Ex Parte Altapointe Health Systems, Inc.
Ex parte Altapointe Health Systems, Inc., [Ms. 1160544, Sept. 8, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). In a decision by Justice Main, (Bolin, Parker, and Wise, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result; Shaw and Sellers, JJ., concur in part and dissent in part; Murdock, J., concurs in part, concurs in the result in part, and dissents in part, and Stuart, C.J., recuses herself), the Court grants in part and denies in part a petition for writ of mandamus involving several discovery disputes.
As to the issue of discovery of the limits of Altapointe’s liability insurance, a plurality of the Court concludes that although Altapointe is a health care provider under the AMLA, its insurance limits are discoverable. Because “[t]he gravamen of [the] complaint is that Altapointe negligently and wantonly failed to safeguard Hunter from such an attack [by a fellow resident at the group home], the action was not one for medical negligence. Ms. *8-9.
Altapointe also objected to responding to an interrogatory as to whether the patient who attacked the plaintiffs’ ward had exhibited prior aggressive acts. Altapointe asserted the interrogatories sought information protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege. Altapointe argued that “because all of its knowledge of Crenshaw stems from the patient-provider relationship, answering Avnet’s interrogatory would necessarily violate the psychotherapist-patient privilege.” Ms. *10. The Court rejected this contention stating the privilege “is intended to protect confidential relations and communications between a patient and his or her psychotherapist.” Ms. *10. The Court noted the narrow scope of the interrogatory and that “it is, of course, possible that Altapointe has knowledge of such [aggressive] actions acquired through confidential communications with Crenshaw made during the course of Crenshaw’s treatment or diagnosis. In that case, such knowledge would be protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege. But it is also possible that Altapointe had knowledge of prior incidents of violence or aggression that it did not acquire in confidence.” Ms. *13-14.
In regard to the incident reports prepared by Altapointe of the incident, the Court noted that it “has given § 22-21-8 a broad interpretation.” Ms. *17, quoting Ex parte Fairfield Nursing, 22 So. 3d at 452. Ms. *17. The Court found sufficient a detailed affidavit from Altapointe’s registered nurse employee which stated in part that
“in the aftermath of the unexpected attack on Mr. Avnet, Altapointe, through its performance improvement committee, of which I am a member, directed a group of employees to investigate the incident to determine the factors that caused the incident, and whether adequate safeguards were in place, whether there needs to be additional safeguards implemented or put into place to prevent future incidents from reoccurring. As a result of the investigation, we generated a ‘confidential incident report’.”