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Can the car insurance company talk to my doctors?

Posted by Joshua R. Evans | Mar 09, 2020 | 0 Comments

You were side-swiped at an intersection in Edwardsville, Illinois. It happened somewhere near Interstate 270 but certainly within Madison County, Illinois. The crash caused you personal injuries including a torn rotator cuff. At some point after the car wreck, a car insurance adjuster called and informed you of your right to a settlement. You let the adjuster know about the shoulder problem. The adjuster seems perplexed and wants to speak with you doctor. Do you have to let the insurance company speak to your doctor?

Never. There is a never a reason for an insurance company or a lawyer representing the insurance company to speak with your doctor outside a deposition. It violates the basic rules of privacy that you share with your physician. That is not to say that the insurance company will not try to get you to sign paperwork to allow them to speak with your physicians.

The benefit to the car insurance company is they get to ask all sorts of questions that may be inappropriate such as whether you had any pre-existing conditions that would cause this shoulder injury. The insurance adjuster may want to record the doctor saying something foolish or taken out of context.

Illinois (along with most states) hold the doctor-patient relationship in such high regard that rules are put in place to prevent insurance companies and their lawyers from speaking with your doctors absent your consent. In Illinois, this privilege you have with your doctor is referred to as the Petrillo Doctrine.

In a recent case, our firm uncovered a Petrillo violation. We argued for the exclusion of the testimony. The following is an excerpt from that argument.

Under the Petrillo progeny any attempt to contact the Plaintiff's physicians outside discovery or a deposition is a violation and warrants barring the testimony, and this includes sending documents or records to the treating physician. Mondelli v. Checker Taxi Co., 197 Ill. App. 3d 258, 262–63, 554 N.E.2d 266, 271 (1990) (stating: “we first observe, as defendants themselves point out, any ex parte communication with Dr. Dupre would clearly have been in violation of the physician-patient privilege (i.e., sending the same diagnostic tests to him as they sent to Dr. Matz) prior to trial.”)

A Petrillo “threat survives even after formal discovery has taken place. As such, to avoid undermining this relationship, such ex parte communications are prohibited.” Young v. Makar, 207 Ill. App. 3d 337, 345, 565 N.E.2d 1030, 1034 (1991) see also, Mondelli v. Checker Taxi Co., 197 Ill. App. 3d 258, 262–63, 554 N.E.2d 266, 271 (1990) (stating: “we first observe, as defendants themselves point out, any ex parte communication with Dr. Dupre would clearly have been in violation of the physician patient privilege (i.e., sending the same diagnostic tests to him as they sent to Dr. Matz) prior to trial.”)

A Petrillo violation can occur even when evidence of direct contact is missing and the Defendant merely provides depositions or letters to the treating physicians. Nastasi v. United Mine Workers of Am. Union Hosp., 209 Ill. App. 3d 830, 839, 567 N.E.2d 1358, 1365 (1991) (holding, “although there was no evidence that plaintiff's treating physicians actually disclosed any of plaintiff's confidences or breached their fiduciary duty to him, such evidence was not required. What matters is the potential harm.”)  

Indeed, Courts hold that a Petrillo violation should be implied when any ex parte communications were discovered. Requena v. Franciscan Sisters Health Care Corp., 212 Ill. App. 3d 328, 332, 570 N.E.2d 1214, 1216 (1991) (stating “Prejudice to the plaintiff can be implied from the facts and circumstances of the improper ex parte communication in this case.) In Requena, the Defendant attempted to inform the treater of potential questions that the Plaintiff might ask. See Id.

If you believe the at-fault driver's insurance company is speaking to your doctors, it is important you speak with an injury attorney as soon as possible. While insurance companies and their lawyers know it is improper to do so, many cannot help by try and “bend” the rules to their advantage. You need to be prepared to take on the greedy insurance companies with a law firm who understand the rules of personal injury litigation.

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Joshua R. Evans

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