Legal Ethics

Lawyer who read medical document from anonymous sender can't represent med-mal plaintiff, court says

  • Print

A lawyer can’t continue to represent a medical malpractice plaintiff after reading hospital documents sent by an anonymous source, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled.

The Somerville, New Jersey, lawyer, Brian Levine, had contended the documents weren’t privileged under the New Jersey Patient Safety Act, the New Jersey Law Journal (sub. req.) reports. One of the documents was labeled “Root Cause Analysis,” and it was part of a hospital investigation into the death of Anne Jablow, the late wife of Levine’s client, David Jablow.

Levine said he was beginning to research the case when his office received the hospital documents in May 2013 in an envelope addressed to him, according to the appeals court opinion. Levine disclosed that he had the Root Cause Analysis several months later in response to a demand for documents by the lawyer for the defendant hospital, the Somerset Medical Center.

The trial court concluded that Levine didn’t intend to do anything “underhanded or wrong” but concluded he must be disqualified from representing the plaintiff. The appeals court agreed in the April 8 decision.

The documents contained a footer on each page stating that they had been prepared in compliance with the Patient Safety Act, providing notice that the documents were at least arguably privileged, the appeals court said, citing trial court findings on the issue. As a result, Levine was obligated under ethics rules to stop reading the documents and to notify opposing counsel that he had received them, according to the appeals court.

Levine told the New Jersey Law Journal the document did not contain information damaging to the hospital and he was disappointed in the appeals court decision. He had not decided whether he would seek an appeal before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.