Carrazana v. Western Express, Inc. concerned a trucking accident that happened in 2013 in North Carolina. Michael Carter, a truck driver employed by Western Express, stopped his tractor-trailer in the emergency lane of I-95. The plaintiff was driving in the right lane. Another truck driver (Tyndall) was driving a tractor-trailer northbound on I-95.
The plaintiff later alleged that Carter negligently pulled in front of him without yielding the right of way and that he crashed into Carter, and Tyndall was also negligent such that he couldn’t move into the left lane to avoid the collision. Carter was cited for an unsafe movement, but Tyndall wasn’t cited.
The plaintiff also alleged that the trucking companies that employed Carter and Tyndall were vicariously liable for their negligence. He also claimed that Western Express had negligently hired, trained, supervised, and retained Carter and that he’d suffered catastrophic injuries due to the accident.
The plaintiff sent discovery requests to the defendants, including interrogatories to Carter. The interrogatories asked Carter for medical information related to who had treated him in the last 10 years for illnesses or injuries. It also asked about the test results of any blood alcohol tests performed on him following the accident.
Both Carter and Western Express answered the discovery requests. The employee objected that the interrogatories were irrelevant, overbroad, and protected by attorney-client privilege and attorney work product privilege. The plaintiff filed a motion to compel the driver and his employer to answer the questions without objection. He also tried to compel documents. The plaintiff argued that toxicology reports were relevant to the issue of whether the driver was driving drunk. The defendants argued that some of the interrogatories sought privileged medical records. However, the toxicology results were negative for alcohol.
The court’s order on the motion to compel asked the plaintiff to produce all his medical records for the prior five years under a confidentiality agreement. For records before the accident, the court allowed the defendant driver to apply for a private review by the court to determine whether he needed to provide the records to the plaintiff. The defendants appealed from the order.
On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court had made a mistake in ordering the driver to produce all medical records for the past five years. The plaintiff argued that it was a frivolous appeal and that the defendant hadn’t preserved the right to claim physician-patient privilege.
The appellate court explained that a patient has the burden of objecting and establishing doctor-patient privilege when evidence is potentially covered by it. The driver hadn’t objected on the grounds of doctor-patient privilege in his interrogatory responses. However, since this argument hadn’t been made in the trial court, the appellate court overruled the issue as to Carter.
It ruled that Western Express couldn’t assert this privilege because it belonged only to the patient. The court explained that under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8-53, no doctor could be required to disclose information acquired while treating a patient, if that information was necessary to treat the patient. However, a judge could compel disclosure if it was necessary to administer justice.
The appellate court reasoned that the plaintiff’s allegations included an allegation of negligent operation of the truck due to impaired ability. Under federal regulations, a driver’s blood needs to be tested for alcohol within eight hours of a crash and for controlled substances within 32 hours of a crash. The driver’s test in this case was outside this window, and his employer argued that it violated its obligation to test within eight hours because he was medically incapacitated.
The appellate court found that the trial court had not abused its discretion in ordering him to disclose a greater amount of medical information than what the plaintiff requested through discovery. It also found the lower court had entered an order protecting the driver’s privacy. It affirmed the granting of the motion to compel.
Not all personal injury attorneys understand how to work up a truck accident case and which types of discovery to pursue. If you were injured in a truck accident, the experienced attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.
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