In a 6-1 decision, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has interpreted a state rule about the disclosure of medical reports in personal injury cases to mean that plaintiffs are not obligated to hire a medical provider to examine them and create a report solely for litigation. Hamilton v. Miller, Nos. 113 & 114 (N.Y., order entered June 12, 2014).

The plaintiffs in both cases before the court had allegedly been injured after exposure to lead-based paint used in the defendants’ rental units that the plaintiffs had lived in many years ago as children. The defendants had each filed motions to compel the plaintiffs to produce medical reports detailing the diagnoses of the purported injuries under 11 NYCRR 202.17(b)(1), which requires disclosure of “copies of the medical reports of those medical providers who have previously treated or examined the party seeking recovery,” or to preclude the plaintiffs from offering evidence of their injuries at trial.

The plaintiffs argued that the rule did not “obligate them to hire a medical provider to examine them and create a report solely for the purposes of the litigations,” and the court agreed, citing the prohibitive costs such a requirement could unfairly impose on plaintiffs. The court also found, however, that requiring only the production of already-existing reports was too limited, as this would allow plaintiffs to avoid disclosure merely because their medical providers had not drafted any such reports. Instead, “[i]f plaintiffs’ medical reports do not contain the information required by the rule, then plaintiffs must have the medical providers draft reports setting forth that information.” The court held that the trial courts had abused their discretion by compelling the plaintiffs to produce medical evidence for each alleged injury and remanded the cases for further proceedings.