You Be The Judge – Doctor Patient Privilege Exceptions?

Date: March 7, 2008

It was well known throughout the neighborhood that John and his wife, Dorothy, were not getting along. The neighbors were able to hear John shouting at Dorothy almost every night and threatening her with harm. Many of Dorothy\’s friends urged her to go to the District Attorney and get a PFA order against John. Dorothy was reluctant to do so and maintained that John had never hurt her physically.

On the morning of January 28th Dorothy did not report to work as normal. Dorothy\’s employer called the house but did not receive any response. Dorothy was a very dedicated and dependable worker who never missed work. The employer then called a neighbor asking the neighbor to check in on Dorothy. When the neighbor went over to Dorothy\’s house, it became readily apparent that something was very wrong as the front door was left partially open, and the neighbor was able to see into the house that much of the furniture had been thrown about. The neighbor called the police. The police investigated and found Dorothy\’s lifeless body on the floor in the kitchen with multiple knife wounds.

One of the neighbors advised the police that Dorothy\’s husband had been seeing a psychiatrist to work out his anger problems. The investigating officer then visited the psychiatrist who stated he could not turn over any information citing the physician/patient privilege.

Question: Does the physican/patient privilege apply in this case?

Answer: The psychiatrist will have to turn over his records to the police once a proper subpoena is served. A physician/patient privilege applies only to civil matters and not to criminal cases.

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.