Brugaletta v. Garcia, D.O., A Big Win in the New Jersey Supreme Court for Cocca & Cutinello

In the seminal case involving Hospital Internal Reviews, the Supreme Court Holds that Internal Reviews are not Discoverable in Medical Malpractice Cases

Brugaletta v. Garcia, D.O., et al., 2018 N.J. LEXIS 980 * | 2018 WL 3554635, Anthony Cocca argued the case at the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of Chilton Medical Center.  The patient brought suit alleging a misdiagnosis by several of her physicians.  Chilton Medical Center performed an internal review of a specific aspect of her care.  Plaintiff petitioned the court for access to all the documents and information generated as a result of that internal review.  The Trial Court granted plaintiff access to parts of the internal review documents and also ordered the hospital to designate the incident as a serious adverse preventable event and to report it to the patient and the Department of Health.

We appealed the trial court's ruling and won in the New Jersey Appellate Division in a case titled, Brugaletta v. Garcia, 448 N.J. Super. 404 (App. Div. 2017).  Anthony Cocca argued that the trial court could not usurp the function of the hospital and substitute its judgment by re-designating an event and ordering Dept. of Health reporting or patient reporting; that the Patient Safety Act included an absolute privilege against disclosure of documents and information gathered during the deliberative process; and that deliberative and factual materials are protected whether or not the incident is reported to the Dept. of Health.

On appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Anthony Cocca also successfully argued that the Patient Safety Act operated as an absolute protective shield to prevent plaintiffs from obtaining documents developed during that deliberative process and that the patients are always able to determine their treatment from the facility charting and records.  In a landmark ruling the Supreme Court re-affirmed the Patient Safety Act's absolute privilege; affirmed that the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of a healthcare facility when deciding how to designate an event and whether to report it to the Dept. of Health; and the Court indicated that once suit is filed, a defendant healthcare facility should explain the facts, as contained in the facility charting, that led to the incident reporting instead of simply referring to voluminous hospital or healthcare facility charting.  The court further found that patients benefit from the ruling because the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Act ensure that after an adverse event, a hospital will undertake a thorough self-critical analysis in order to help prevent such incidents without fear of disclosure or reprisal.  The decision also benefits litigants insofar as counsel for the healthcare facility should outline the basic facts of the adverse event, as they are already noted in the healthcare facility charting, to the litigants.

We congratulate Anthony, Katelyn & Priya and we recognize the hard work of our outstanding legal assistants Jessica & Nidian and office administrator, Paulina as well - it was truly a collaborative effort.

See the New Jersey Law Journal article here: