JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has unanimously agreed that defendants in medical negligence cases are not entitled to "any and all medical records," but rather only those that relate to physical conditions at issue in pleadings related to litigation. 

The court's Nov. 21 decision made a preliminary writ of prohibition in a medical malpractice case involving the case of Thomas Fennewald (deceased) vs. Jefferson City Medical Group, Thomas W. Schneider, M.D. and Christopher Case, M.D., permanent. 

Fennewald died in January 2016 of metastatic colon cancer.

The defendants had sought, and were granted by Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce, a wide-ranging scope of Fennewald’s records from Aug. 1, 1987 to present, from any health care provider, employer or other entity possessing records.

Fennewald's surviving brother, Ronald, had sued claiming negligence due to the alleged failure to inform of the need for or to prescribe a colonoscopy, among other things, and he sought damages for the development of preventable colon cancer.

The circuit court signed an order authorizing the release of medical records in January of this year, and Ronald Fennewald petitioned for the writ of prohibition seeking to rescind, revoke or withdraw the circuit court's authorization order.

In a per curiam order, the court held that medical records are generally subject to doctor-patient privilege, but once a plaintiff puts their physical condition at issue in pleadings, they waive that privilege.

"But the waiver is not general as to all medical records," the ruling states.

"Instead, it is only 'insofar as information from doctors or medical and hospital records bears on that issue.'"

"In this case, as in all cases, medical authorizations require a tailored 'case-by-case' analysis by the parties and, if necessary, the circuit court, in accordance with Stecher and Syler," the ruling states. "This was not done. As such, the preliminary writ of prohibition is made permanent. "

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