Questioning The Credibility Of Hospital Medical Records Used In Lawsuits

As a member of the Chester County Bar Association, I have volunteered to sit as an arbitrator in civil cases. Under the rules in Pennsylvania, any civil lawsuit that is worth less than $50,000 can be tried in front of a panel of arbitrators rather than a judge and jury. Therefore, any personal injury case such as a car accident, slip and fall, dog bite, nursing home case or medical malpractice can be arbitrated. This also includes contract actions and any type of commercial litigation. This system allows the more serious cases to be tried by a judge and jury and, therefore, it eases the burden on the court’s system.

Incorrect Medical Records

I sat on a very interesting case recently. It involved a woman who shattered her kneecap when she tripped on a rug in a supermarket. The plaintiff testified that when she went to the hospital immediately after the fall, her pain was a 10 on a scale of 0 to 10. She returned to the emergency room the next day and testified that her pain was a 10 on that day too. On cross examination, the attorney for the supermarket showed her a copy of the emergency room records which indicated that she reported her pain to be a 1 on the first day and a 3 on the second day. Was she lying? The plaintiff was handed the emergency room medical records and asked to comment. She read them and then commented that on the same page of the emergency room medical record which referred to her pain level, there was also a statement that she had injured her left knee in the fall. She then pointed out that it was her right knee which had been injured.

In my years in practicing personal injury law, I have seen thousands of hospital and doctor medical records. I have also seen thousands of mistakes on those medical records. The mistakes were not made by the patient, but by the doctor or nurse.

The best example I can give you is about a client who was in my office to prepare for trial. I was reviewing the hospital records and asked him if it was true that he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day as was stated in the health history. He told me that he had never put a cigarette in his mouth. I knew then that hospital medical records were not to be trusted.

As a lawyer, I knew that there was a problem with the credibility, not of the plaintiff, but with the hospital records. The problem is that when you try a case in front of a jury, the members of the jury do not understand this concept and often find that it is the witness that is not telling the truth, rather than medical records mistakes.

Stephen Karp

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