A judge in Manhattan has rejected the city’s attempt to obtain mental health records from a man who fell down an elevator shaft in a Housing Authority building but dropped his post-traumatic stress claim after the city sought records of his psychiatric and substance abuse treatment.
Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden (See Profile) not only shielded Herbert Alford’s records but barred the city from using documents it has already obtained related to the plaintiff’s prior mental health treatment as it defends what is now an action seeking damages for physical injuries.
Alford v. City of New York, 402905/08, arose from an accident in 2007 when Alford fell into an elevator shaft at 1115 FDR Drive. Alford sued the city for injuries to his knees and back and included a claim for post-traumatic stress. Records indicate that Alford was drunk at the time of the accident.
For more than a year, the city attempted to obtain records of Alford’s prior treatment psychiatric or psychological issues and/or alcohol or substance abuse. Initially, Alford’s attorney agreed to provide the records, but the plaintiff ignored six discovery orders relating to the reports before moving to withdraw his claims for post-traumatic stress and other psychological harm. At issue before Madden was whether those records remain discoverable once Alford withdrew his mental health-related claims. She held in a decision Oct. 24 that the records are not discoverable.
“Although plaintiff has withdrawn his claims for post traumatic stress syndrome and other injuries related to his mental condition, defendants argue that discovery of medical records regarding these conditions is permissible as they are relevant to issues of damages for loss of enjoyment of life,” Madden wrote. “This position is unavailing.”
Madden noted that absent the mental health claims, Alford’s claims for loss of enjoyment are limited to the knee and back injuries. She said the city has not provided any evidence to suggest that Alford’s prior mental health history has any relation to his capacity to recover from his injuries and enjoy life. However, she said Alford’s condition at the time of the accident is germane.
“[W]hile defendants are not entitled to records relating to plaintiff’s prior history of alcohol abuse and mental health treatment, there is no dispute that plaintiff’s condition at the time of the accident is relevant and, in this connection, plaintiff has provided defendants with hospital and medical records showing that plaintiff had alcohol on his breath and was admitted to the hospital for alcohol intoxication following the accident,” Madden wrote.
Madden denied a motion by defendant Schindler Elevator, which maintained the elevator in question, for discovery sanctions.
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