IME’s: Leveling the Playing Field
With few exceptions, Oregon has no expert discovery. While Independent Medical Examinations (“IME’s”) are available, the Oregon Plaintiff’s Bar has resisted them consistently and for years has sought conditions such as the presence of “supporters” or plaintiff’s counsel, someone from their office, or audio and/or video recording, etc. In large personal injury, product liability, or aviation cases where the defense has needed IME’s in a number of medical disciplines, plaintiffs routinely sought to, and successfully blocked multiple specialty IME’s.
Until recently, the plaintiff could retain one or more medical experts, who could then examine the plaintiff without the defendant ever knowing of the examination(s), or at best, only learning as the plaintiff’s surprise medical expert took the stand. Obviously, it did not work the other way around and any defense IME, which usually required court intervention, would be discoverable to the plaintiff immediately. Even if the defendant did not request a written report, the defendant’s expert was obligated to provide the report at the plaintiff’s expense.
Plaintiff Must Now Disclose IME’s and Reports, Or Have Plaintiff’s IME Provider Prepare a Report at Reasonable Expense to the Defense
Pursuant to ORCP 36, ORCP 44 and the Oregon Supreme Court’s recent decision in A.G. v. Guitron, 351 Or 465, 268 P3d 589 (2011), the plaintiff is now required to produce a written report from any and all examining physicians and psychologists who have examined the plaintiff and not yet made a written report. This includes the obligation to request that any examining physicians and psychologists who have been retained as experts by the plaintiff, and who have not yet made a written report, prepare a written report of the examination at the defendant’s reasonable cost and produce it to the defendant.
Defendant May Obtain Attorney Fees If a Motion To Compel Is Required
Pursuant to ORCP 46 A(4), the defendant may also move the court for an Order requiring the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s reasonable attorney fees and costs in filing such a motion to compel, given the express language of ORCP 36, ORCP 44 and Guitron. Unless the court finds that the opposition to the motion was substantially justified or that other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust, it may order the plaintiff and/or the plaintiff’s attorney to pay the defendant’s reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the Order, including attorney’s fees.
The Oregon Evidence Code Contains an Exception to the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege in Cases Where Emotional Condition Is At Issue
A plaintiff may argue that the attorney-client privilege protects psychotherapist reports until the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s testifying doctor/therapist takes the stand, thereby waiving the privilege. However, the Oregon Evidence Code (“OEC”) provides an exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege asserted by plaintiff. OEC 504(4)(b) provides that,
“There is no privilege under this rule as to communications relevant to an issue of the mental or emotional condition of the patient[.]”
Defense counsel should also be aware and prepared to argue that, by definition, the work-product privilege codified in ORCP 36 B(3) does not apply to medical records. Also, while pretrial discovery of non-medical experts is generally not permitted in Oregon, Oregon does not recognize a general “expert” privilege that would relieve plaintiff of all obligations to produce medical records.
ORCP 36 B(1) and ORCP 44 D Make Clear that Plaintiff Does Not Have the Right to Ambush Defendant With a Secret Medical Witness
A plaintiff’s medical records in a personal injury case are relevant and discoverable pursuant to ORCP 36 B(1), which is broad and allows parties discovery “regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant” to any claim or defense in the case. ORCP 36 B(1) further provides that, “It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
Under ORCP 44 C, “the claimant shall deliver to the requesting party a copy of all written reports and existing notations of any examinations relating to injuries for which recovery is sought * * *.” Under ORCP 44 D(1), a party may request the report of an “examining physician or psychologist” who has examined the other party for purposes of litigation. Under the Guitron case, when requested, under the proper predicate circumstances, a plaintiff is required to provide the defense with reports from that plaintiff’s IME physician. Specifically, the Guitron court held that ORCP 44 C requires plaintiffs “to deliver to defendants, at defendants’ request, a copy of all written reports of examinations related to the psychological injuries for which plaintiff sought recovery, including, specifically, the report of an examination by a psychologist retained by plaintiff’s counsel for the purpose of the litigation.” 351 Or 465, 467.
The court in Guitron affirmed the trial court and the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision to bar the plaintiff’s psychologist from testifying at trial pursuant to ORCP 44 D because his required written report was not produced to the defendants. 351 Or 465. The court held that, under ORCP 44 C, plaintiffs are required to produce on request “the reports of the experts who examined them for purposes of litigation as well as for treatment.” Id. at 485. As the Guitron court noted, in adopting ORCP 44, the Oregon Legislature limited the reach of the protections of the physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, and attorney-client privileges, and ordered plaintiff to produce a report that might otherwise have been protected. 351 Or at 484-85.
Plaintiffs Are No Longer Entitled to the Presence of a Supporter During IMEs Unless Extraordinary Circumstances Are Present
On March 7, 2013, The Oregon Supreme Court published an opinion which was a welcome further leveling of the playing field for the defense as it relates to defense-requested IME’s. The issue of plaintiffs having their counsel or a “supporter” present during defense IME’s has plagued Oregon state civil defense lawyers for decades.
In Lindell v Kalugin, 353 Or 338, 297 P 3d 1266 (2013), the Oregon Supreme Court issued an important en banc opinion for the defense. The court ruled that a plaintiff is not automatically entitled to be accompanied by counsel or a supporter at an IME requested by the defense.
An ongoing dispute for many years in Oregon is whether a plaintiff’s counsel, family member, or friend can attend a defense-requested IME. After performing a balancing test, the court ruled that the defense was entitled to have the plaintiff examined without having a family member, friend, or their counsel in attendance. Id. at 358. The court noted that this was in part so that the IME examiner, and by extension the defense, could evaluate the true responses of the plaintiff and get a true sense of plaintiff’s condition, unaltered by the presence of the third person. Id. at 357-58.
The court did not, however, rule that a third party would be prohibited to attend a plaintiff’s IME under any circumstances, but it did rule that the proper showing of need had not been made in the Lindell case. We do not expect this opinion to alter the customary Oregon practice whereby trial court judges allow the presence of a third person such as a parent in cases involving children or vulnerable adults.
This will likely have particular importance in serious negligence, product liability, and aviation cases where serious injuries are possible and multiple-discipline IME’s are necessary.