Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Order Regarding Privilege of Mental Health Records

Kiersten Sparger underwent a lumbar laminoplasty performed by Dr. Bakhtiar Yamini, an employee of the University of Chicago Medical Center. The procedure took place on March 30, 2015.

On April 27, 2015, Dr. Yamini saw Kiersten again because her wound was leaking spinal fluid. Dr. Yamini instructed his staff to “overstitch” the wound. Dr. Yamini informed Kiersten and her father, Jeff Sparger, that she could not be admitted to the hospital due to a nursing strike. A pouch developed at the wound site and Kiersten was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center on May 13, 2015 with a fever and significant neck pain. Dr. Yamini surgically repaired the leak. However, Kiersten developed infectious meningitis and suffered cognitive damage.

Jeff Sparger, on behalf of his daughter Kiersten, filed suit against Dr. Yamini and the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The Sparger complaint alleged medical negligence and claimed that the 14-day delay in repairing the wound was “a significant deviation from the standard of care,” causing Kiersten to become infected with meningitis. A doctor who gave Kiersten a neuropsychological evaluation found that her cognitive, emotional and behavioral impairments were “consistent with traumatic brain injury.”

Kiersten’s records, requested from the hospital, were redacted by Dr. Yamini’s lawyers pursuant to the Mental Health Act, and records from a hospitalization in 2014 were entirely withheld.

Dr. Yamini and the University of Chicago Medical Center moved to compel disclosure, arguing that they were entitled to them because the expert’s report put Kiersten’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral presentation prior to the occurrence to the injury at issue, an exception to the privilege found in section 10(a)(1) of the Mental Health Act.

Sparger moved to bar discovery, but the trial court granted the motion to compel disclosure. Sparger’s attorney respectfully declined to turn over the records and was found in friendly contempt with a fine imposed to facilitate appellate review. This appeal took place.

On appeal, Sparger stipulated that he does not seek compensation for emotional injuries Kiersten suffered. Sparger argued that the act (Mental Health Act), which protects records made in the course of providing mental health for developmental disability services from disclosure, applied even in cases of neurological damage so long as the plaintiff does not make a claim for psychological or emotional damage.

The appellate court agreed that neurological injuries do not place mental health conditions at issue, citing precedent reasoning that “[i]f that were true, in every case in which the plaintiff claimed damages stemming from a physical injury to the brain, the door to discovery of the plaintiff’s mental-health records would automatically open,” effectively negating a wide swath of privilege that is afforded by the act.

The Illinois Appellate Court distinguished this from cases cited by University of Chicago Medical Center where plaintiffs made claim seeking damages for psychological issues or emotional injuries which would place a plaintiff’s mental health at issue. In the instant case, no claim has been made of emotional or psychological damage, and an evaluation of Kiersten’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral impairments finding them consistent with traumatic brain injury does not grant access to her mental health records.

Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the decision of the trial judge, vacated the contempt order and remanded the case for further proceedings. Kiersten’s mental health records were thus protected.

Jeff Sparger as father and next friend of Kiersten Sparger v. Bakhtiar Yamini, et al.
, No. 2019 IL App (1st) 180566 (May 27, 2020).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice lawsuits, traumatic brain injury cases, hospital negligence lawsuits and neurosurgery negligence lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Maywood, Melrose Park, Hinsdale, Wheaton, Morton Grove, Des Plaines, Glenview, Northfield, Worth, South Holland, Chicago (Rogers Park, Albany Park, Washington Park, Andersonville, Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, Little Italy, Greek Town, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville), Arlington Heights, Orland Park, Blue Island and Mundelein, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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