Scope of Medical Records Discovery Limited by Appellate Court

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the injured or deceased party’s medical history is virtually always the subject of discovery. Discovery usually involves the collection of medical records. The scope of medical records discovery is a frequent area of disagreement between opposing parties. A recent Southern District of Missouri Court of Appeals decision addressed this issue.

Facts of Case

Decedent Jacob Williams died while repairing dump/bale bed on a truck in Williams’ auto repair shop. While working on the truck, Williams leaned underneath the bed and touched the interlock switch. This caused the bed to fall on him and kill him.

Williams’ surviving spouse brought a wrongful death claim against the manufacturer of the truck bed, Cannonball, as well as the truck’s owner. She asserted both products liability and negligence claims.

Postmortem blood samples revealed Williams’ blood contained levels of narcotic pain  medication at the time of his death. Based on these results the bed manufacturer believed Williams may have been cognitively impaired at the time of his death and sought discovery on Williams’ prescription drug history. Specifically, Cannonball requested  the production of Williams’ prescription medication records for the six years prior to his death.

The Trial Court Ruling

The trial court entered an order compelling the production of six years of prescription medical records. Williams’ spouse filed a writ of prohibition requesting that the appellate court prevent the production of the records.

The Ruling on Appeal

The Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals agreed with Williams’ spouse. Although, Williams’ level of cognitive impairment at or near the time of his death was a valid subject of discovery, the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered discovery on the six years prior to death. Therefore, the appellate court prohibited the trial court from compelling production of six years’ worth of records.


Unfortunately, this decision did not establish a  hard and fast rule on the temporal scope of discovery on medical issues or condition. This is likely due to the fact that such matters will be factually driven and different in every case. As such, it would be impossible to establish a broad rule applicable in all cases. This case could be used to argue for a very limited scope of discovery on prescription medications when the issue is the effect of medications at a very specific point in time.

The full opinion can be found here.