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Octave ex rel. Octave v. Walker, 103 A.2d 1255 (Pa. 2014) Case Summary

An estate filed a negligence suit to recover for physical injuries sustained by James Octave upon being struck by a tractor-trailer driven by David Walker.  The state police concluded that Octave attempted to commit suicide by jumping under the truck’s trailer.  The estate said that defendant Walker could not obtain information about Octave’s prior psychiatric history because of the Mental Health Procedures Act.  The court distinguished this case from those where mental health records are sought but are not necessary to establish any claim or defense.  In fact, this is a very limited ruling.  The court said that in terms of obtaining mental health records in personal injury litigation, a patient waives his confidentiality protections under the MHPA where judged by an objective standard, he knew or reasonably should have known his mental health would be placed directly at issue by filing the lawsuit.  Disinterested eyewitnesses said that James Octave attempted to commit suicide by jumping under the truck’s trailer.  This put the estate on notice that if they filed a civil action, a suicide defense would likely be advanced.  There was a history of suicidal ideations that might be entirely decisive of liability.  The estate knew, or reasonably should have known, that James Octave’s mental health would be directly placed at issue by filing the lawsuit. The court urged the lower court to use great caution in accepting implicit waiver.  The importance of the protections afforded by the MHPA cannot be overemphasized and thus protections must not be ignored in deciding whether a patient impliedly waived the privilege.