The Bar News

Quick takes on Friday's Illinois Supreme Court Civil opinions

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Friday's Illinois Supreme Court Civil opinions in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District and Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services.

Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District

By Alyssa M. Reiter, Williams, Montgomery & John Ltd.

In this divisive case, the Supreme Court departed from stare decisis and “determined that the time has come to abandon the public duty rule and its special duty exception.”

The public duty rule provided that local governmental entities and their employees owe no duty of care to individual members of the general public to provide governmental services, such as police and fire protection.

The Court based its ruling on three considerations: (1) the jurisprudence regarding the public duty rule was “muddled and inconsistent”; (2) application of the public duty rule is incompatible with the legislature's grant of limited immunity in cases of willful and wanton misconduct; and (3) determining public policy is primarily a legislative function and, by enacting statutory immunities, the legislature had rendered the public duty rule obsolete.

The special concurrence by Justice Freeman, joined by Justice Theis, agreed that the public duty rule must be abolished, but offered alternative justifications for the abolition. Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Garman and Justice Karmeier, dissented, criticizing that the majority and concurring opinions were indefensible and that “both make a mockery of stare decisis.”

Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC

The General Assembly’s classification of documents as “confidential” does not mean the materials necessarily are “privileged” from discovery or “inadmissible” in civil litigation. In the context of a medical malpractice case against a hospital based on allegations of negligent credentialing of a physician, the Illinois Supreme Court strictly construed the defendant hospital’s claim of privilege over a physician’s applications for staff privileges and affirmed the lower courts’ orders to produce the documents.

The supreme court first addressed the hospital’s claim that a provision of the Health Care Professional Credentials Data Collection Act, 410 ILCS 517/15(h) (West 2012), protected the application materials in their entirety by virtue of a requirement that hospitals and other entities keep confidential credentials data. The court observed that the Credentials Act, which the legislature enacted to standardize the collection of credentials data and regulate the assessment and validation of health care professionals’ qualifications, requires that the entities gathering such information keep it confidential – but the statute does not expressly bar disclosure or create a privilege. The supreme court held that disclosure of statutorily-designated “confidential” documents depends on whether applying a privilege promotes interests that “outweigh the need for probative evidence.”  If highly relevant to the claim at issue, the information will be “critical to the truth-seeking process” and thus discoverable, unless the statute expressly provides that the information is privileged.    

The Medical Studies Act, 735 ILCS 5/8-2102 (West 2012), while providing that internal quality control information is “privileged” and “shall not be admissible … or discoverable,” did not protect the applications at issue. Citing an appellate negligent credentialing decision, Frigo v. Silver Cross Hospital & Medical Center, 377 Ill. App. 3d 43 (2007), the supreme court approved the appellate court’s ruling that information reviewed by a credentials committee is discoverable in a negligent credentialing lawsuit against a hospital. To hold otherwise, the appellate court stated, would expand the Medical Studies Act privilege beyond the scope intended by the legislature.

Having decided that no blanket privilege applied, the supreme court considered and rejected the hospital’s arguments that specific information within the applications should be protected. Information reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank was not privileged under a federal statute, the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 11137(b)(1) (2012); like the Credentials Act, the federal statute designated NPDB  information to be “confidential,” not “privileged.” The supreme court also found no merit in the hospital’s claim that the physician-patient privilege codified in 735 ILCS 5/8-802 (West 2012) protected treatment information of nonparties. The court reasoned that the applications contained only raw data concerning treatment and procedures performed by the physician in question, not medical records of identifiable patients.

Posted on January 25, 2016 by Chris Bonjean
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