How Much Is Too Much “Medical Evidence” To Ask For In A Personal Injury Action?

In the context of two lead paint exposure cases, the New York State Court of Appeals was recently called upon to delineate the plaintiffs’ obligations to substantiate their claims of injury during the course of discovery. In Giles v. Yi and Hamilton v. Miller, the Court struck a balance between plaintiffs’ obligations to support their claimed injuries with medical evidence and defendants’ interests in ferreting out medically unsupported or unsupportable claims at an early stage.

In both cases the plaintiffs disclosed medical reports demonstrating that they were exposed to lead paint as children, which caused them to suffer certain medical and academic problems. They also submitted bills of particulars, alleging 35 and 58 individual injuries, respectively. The defendants argued that the medical reports did not substantiate the numerous injuries alleged or link them to any lead paint exposure. They subsequently moved to compel the plaintiffs to produce “medical reports detailing a diagnosis of the injuries allegedly caused by exposure to lead-based paint, or be precluded from introducing proof of these injuries at trial.” The plaintiffs balked at that request, noting that it would essentially require them to hire expert medical providers to produce such reports, which would be beyond what discovery rules require.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motions and ordered the plaintiffs to produce medical reports diagnosing each of the claimed injuries caused by lead exposure. The Court of Appeals reversed in part to balance the requirements imposed upon the plaintiffs and the defendants’ need for legitimate evidence of injury. The Court agreed that the plaintiffs were not obligated to hire new medical providers to produce reports diagnosing them with the injuries claimed. However, they were at least required to produce such reports from their own providers. The Court also required the plaintiffs to amend their bills of particulars to include injuries that were actually diagnosed by a physician. The Court did not require the plaintiffs to produce evidence causally relating the injuries to lead paint exposure. The Court concluded that requirement was unsupported by any discovery rule or statute. 

Although this balancing of interests occurred in the context of lead paint exposure cases, it is easy to see how the same principle would apply in all types of personal injury actions. There is a temptation for plaintiffs to serve “boilerplate” bills of particulars alleging dozens of injuries not necessarily substantiated by medical evidence. As the Court of Appeals’ decision demonstrates, plaintiffs should allege only those injuries they are prepared to substantiate through medical reports. Defendants, on the other hand, must be vigilant and diligent in demanding the medical evidence to back up each of the injuries a plaintiff alleges.

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