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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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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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