Court holds Beaumont not required to produce its nursing policies to family suing for nursing negligence
Robert Melick suffered a stroke; he was admitted to William Beaumont Hospital, where he was given a fall risk assessment score of "8;" the next day he was discovered on the floor of his room and a CT scan revealed he had suffered left frontal trauma and an acute subarachnoid hemorrhage. After his death his family sued the hospital, arguing that its nurses were negligent in positioning his railings and responding appropriately to his fall risk assessment.
The family sought discovery of the hospital's nursing rules regarding fall assessment, restraints, alarms and companion-sitters. The trial judge ruled that the internal policies and procedures could "lead to admissible evidence" [the Michigan legal standard for compelling discovery] and ordered Beaumont to produce the policy manual. Beaumont appealed and this month the Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge.
Even though it acknowledged that Michigan "follows 'a liberal discovery policy' that permits the discovery of any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending case,' " the judges overturned the trial judge's holding that the family's attorneys could examine the policies. Despite the state's "strong historical commitment to a far-reaching, open and effective discovery practice," the Court of Appeals panel ruled that the Hospital's policies governing fall assessment, alarms, restraints and sitters were "irrelevant" to the claim that the Hospital's nurses had violated the standard of care governing those issues.
It bears emphasis that the judge had NOT ruled that the policies would be admissible at trial; he merely ruled that the family's attorneys had reasonable grounds for examining the policies to see if they might lead to admissible evidence. It also bears emphasis that the Court suggested that one reason for denying access to the policies was the failure of the family's attorneys to allege in their complaint that the Hospital was directly responsible for failing to adopt appropriate policies governing these topics.
The latter justification creates an insurmountable "Catch 22" for most malpractice victims: they are required to produce a complicated Notice of Intent to Sue 180 days before filing a lawsuit, and their lawsuit complaint must be accompanied by highly specific Affidavits of Merit, signed by similarly-credentialed doctors or nurses, detailing precisely how the defendant(s) violated the standard of care. Of course, the family could not meet this procedural obligation without access to the Beaumont policies--which access is now denied for failing to allege specific violations. Sometimes the judicial stretch to protect medical providers and their insurers exceeds even a vivid and cynical imagination.