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

February 23rd, 2015 by Rieders Travis in Personal Injury

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.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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