Falco v. Institute of Living

US Court of Appeals

254 Conn. 321, 757 A.2d 571 (2000)

Aug 22 2000

 

The recent state supreme court decision in Falco v. Institute of Living traces back to Falco’s efforts to compel a psychiatric hospital to provide him with the identity of his attacker. The superior court granted the bill of discovery filed by the patient, and the appellate court affirmed, 50 Conn. App. 654, 718 A.2d 1029. In the hospital’s appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the hospital argued, inter alia, that the trial court improperly exceeded its authority by recognizing an exception to the psychiatrist-patient privilege that had not been enacted by the legislature. The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed and held that the psychiatrist-patient privilege may be overridden only by legislatively enacted exceptions and that these statutory exceptions should be narrowly construed. The court stated that Falco’s right to redress injuries in court, Conn. Const. art. first, § 10, was inapplicable since the privilege did not restrict the cause of action itself, but rather merely restricted the availability of evidence.


Background Information
In 1995, an inpatient at the Institute of Living (‘IOL’) was attacked without provocation by another patient while attending a group meeting. In 1997, the IOL’s insurance carrier denied the patient’s claim for personal and psychological injuries stemming from the attack, and as a result, the ‘victim’ brought an action against the IOL seeking a bill of discovery. The bill requested that the IOL provide the ‘victim’ critical information about the attacker, including the full name, last known address, social security number, date of birth, the medical and psychiatric records of the attacker while he was an inpatient at the IOL in March, 1995, and all incident reports made by the IOL regarding the attack. The trial court granted the victim’s request and ordered the IOL to provide the attacker’s name, address and social security number. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision.

The Supreme Court granted review in the matter, agreeing to decide whether the trial court exceeded its authority by recognizing an exception to the attacker’s privilege that the legislature had not enacted. In reversing the Appellate Court, the Supreme Court found that the statutory privilege which exists between the psychiatrist and the patient under Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-146e prohibited the disclosure of the information sought in this case, and unless one of the specifically defined statutory exceptions is met, the psychiatric patient’s identity is confidential and the maintenance of that confidence is ‘essential to the … purpose of preserving the therapeutic relationship as the confidence of any other information in a patient’s record.’

While it is true that the legislature carved out certain exceptions to the confidentiality statute, none of those exceptions applied here.* In addition, a person’s right to redress as provided in the state Constitution does not outweigh this statutorily protected confidence. Practically speaking, the ‘victim’ had other means by which to obtain this information, and the court seemed a bit perturbed by the fact that the ‘victim’ had chosen the most convenient way to obtain the information, rather than exhausting other means at his disposal before resorting to a court order.

* The exceptions are codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-146f. They are numerous, but include communications to another health facility for diagnosis and treatment, when substantial risk of imminent physical injury by the patient to himself or others exists, when fees are at issue, when court ordered for an examination to determine whether a conservator is appropriate, in a civil proceeding when patient introduces his mental condition as an element of his claim or defense, etc. Please let me know if you would like a full copy of this statute.

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