The courts are always cautious when it comes to the disclosure of a party’s mental health records. A good example is the recent case of Alford v. City of New York, where plaintiff suffered injuries after he fell seven feet down an elevator shaft in a building owned by the New York City Housing Authority. Plaintiff claimed physical injuries to his knee and back, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental and psychological injuries. Although claiming mental and psychological trauma, plaintiff initially refused to disclose medical records regarding his prior treatment for substance and alcohol abuse. Plaintiff moved the lower court for a protective order precluding disclosure of these records and precluding defendants from using any of these medical records already obtained at trial. Importantly, within the same motion, plaintiff also sought leave to withdraw his claims for PTSD and mental and psychological injuries. Defendants cross-moved to compel disclosure of the records.
The lower court held, and the First Department affirmed, that there is no dispute that plaintiff’s mental condition at the time of the accident was relevant in light of plaintiff’s original claim of psychological injury. However, once plaintiff asked to withdraw his claims for mental and psychological injuries, the records were no longer relevant so the court granted plaintiff’s motion. The First Deparment held that as soon as plaintiff’s mental condition was withdrawn from the case, plaintiff’s right to confidentiality of his mental health records trumped the interests of justice in disclosing them. In addition, the court held that plaintiff’s claim for loss of enjoyment of life did not warrant disclosure of these records as that claim relates only to his physical injuries.
A plaintiff will not be forced to open up his life entirely just because he commenced a suit. However, each claim a plaintiff chooses to bring must be proven and a defendant has a right to fully investigate and defend against each one. If the plaintiff does not want to expose himself entirely, he cannot benefit from such claims and they should be withdrawn, as was done in this case. We query how the trial court will deal with a claim that plaintiff can no longer work based solely on his physical injury if, in actuality, his psychological problems have contributed to his loss of employment.
Thanks to Anne Mulcahy for her contribution to this post. If you have an questions, please email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.