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Doctor owed no duty to release prenatal records to adoptive parents

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A New York couple who adopted a child born in Lake County lost their appeal of an unsuccessful negligence claim against a doctor who did not provide requested prenatal records that would have revealed the child’s significant brain abnormalities before the adoption was finalized.

“This case involves a very unfortunate set of circumstances,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for a unanimous panel that affirmed Lake Superior Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider ‘s grant of summary judgment for Dr. Paul Okolocha.

Victoria and Lynell Jeffrey adopted E.J., who they thought to be a healthy baby boy, from birth mother V.S. in 2006. Days before E.J. was born, a sonogram revealed abnormalities that would require a lifetime of medical care and assistance.

The trial court, upon hearing grants for summary judgment from both sides, granted summary judgment for Okolocha, and the appeals court agreed.

A request from the Jeffreys’ attorney for the records was directed to “To whom it may concern,” and though the release was signed by the birth mother, both the trial court and the appeals court found that the request did not comport with laws to protect patient privacy, specifically the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and Indiana Code 16-39-1-4.

“The fact remains that Dr. Okolocha only has a duty to release medical records when properly authorized by a patient to do so. There was no such authorization here, and therefore no duty. The Jeffreys claim for negligence must fail,” Crone wrote.

“We are mindful of the great emotional and monetary harm suffered by the Jeffreys in this case. However, it cannot be ignored that the Jeffreys and their attorneys were in the best position to avoid the harm suffered. The Jeffreys and their attorneys finalized the adoption of E.J. despite the fact that they had not received V.S.’s prenatal records from Dr. Okolocha. Unfortunately, there were tragic consequences to that gamble. Nevertheless, we cannot find a duty in negligence when none exists. Summary judgment in favor of Dr. Okolocha is appropriate. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.”


 

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