The answer to this question is little bit tricky but you should understand that the basic rules of discovery allow for very broad request for medical records, both past and present. In short, your medical records are for the most part discoverable in a personal injury case. You should understand and be prepared for this as you decide whether or not to pursue your claims.
Your next question may be, unless you have been involved in litigation previously, what does “discoverable” mean? Discoverable means that not only can the other side request information such as medical records, you must provide them. Failure to provide legally requested discovery (i.e. documents, records, and so on) will likely result in a Motion to Compel Responses from the other side. In most cases, the court will order the discovery. In some cases, the court may also award attorney fees and costs associated with the Motion. Again, this is due to the broad rules of discovery.
Overly Burdensome Requests by Insurance Company
Though the rules of discovery are very broad, this does not mean that the other side can make burdensome or overly broad requests. What “overly broad or burdensome” means will depend on the circumstances. In personal injury cases involving a request for medical records, it is fairly common for the opposing insurance company (or its attorney) to request 10 years prior medical history. And in most cases, the records will just be provided.
Many injured persons are very upset about this and in many cases for good reason. Giving the insurance company or its attorney the benefit of the doubt, a medical history is helpful in determining the extent of injuries and whether or not the current injuries pre-existed the subject accident. This makes perfect sense where the medical records and history are somehow possibly indicative or related to the current claimed injuries.
There are some insurance companies that routinely request far more than what is reasonably necessary to assess claimed injuries or pre-existing conditions. Instead, they will often go fishing for obviously unrelated records in order to burden, intimidate or embarrass the injured person. Though discovery is broad, obviously abusive behavior will not generally be allowed.
Rules Give Benefit of the Doubt to Party Requesting the Evidence
At times, there can be good faith disagreements between what is abusive and what is discoverable. Keep in mind that where it is not clear whether the tactic is abusive or the documents and records are discoverable, the broad rules of discovery will allow it.
Keep in mind also that whether or not the material is relevant is not the test for whether it is discoverable. The test is whether it is likely to lead to discoverable evidence. What this means is in most instances open to valid dispute. As such, much arguably irrelevant evidence can be requested and gathered so long as it may lead to discoverable evidence.
As a practical matter, this means that the insurance company within reason can and often does make very broad requests for medical records. In turn, they are generally entitled to those records under the rules of discovery.
Must Have Very Good Reason for Refusing to Provide Records
Though you may not wish to share this personal information, you should understand a couple of things. First, unless there is very good reason under the rules of discovery not to share them, you will likely have to provide them.
Second, even the most atrocious insurance company or adjuster will not share your medical records with anyone else. It is actually a criminal offense to share protected health information. In addition, should an outrageous breach of privacy would lead to claims directly against the insurance company.
Having said all this, if you have valid reasons for not wanting others to see some of your medical records, you should discuss these matters with your attorney as soon as possible. This can head off problems down the road.