Court Rules Car Accident Plaintiff Cannot Get Records on Driver’s Post-Accident Substance Abuse Treatment – Brown v. Montanez

In Brown v. Montanez, the Fourth District Court of Appeal explains the psychotherapist-patient privilege and how it came into play in a South Florida car accident case in which one driver was allegedly on drugs at the time of the crash.

Plaintiff Nya Montanez’s infant daughter, Yanely Gonzalez, was killed in a Florida car accident when a car driven by Jason Brown collided with the minivan Montanez was driving. Brown was later convicted for DUI as a result of the accident.

Montanez filed suit against Brown and his parents, the owners of the car he was driving, alleging that Brown’s negligence caused the crash. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Brown was “on a crack cocaine binge at the time of the accident, and his parents knew that he had had a severe problem with substance abuse and had a very poor driving record,” according to the court.

Before trial, Montanez’s lawyers served a subpoena duces tecum on the Delray Recovery Center, where Brown was treated while awaiting trial on the DUI charges. Although Defendants objected, arguing that the production of the Center’s file on Brown would violate the psychotherapist-patient privilege, the trial court ordered that the file be produced.

On appeal, the Fourth District quashed the trial court’s order, finding that production of the Center’s file was protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The court explained that Section 90.503, Florida Statutes “protects the confidential communications between the patient and the psychotherapist and the records of mental health treatment from disclosure to third parties.” That specifically includes communications and records related to the patient’s drug and alcohol addiction. The privilege includes both doctors and other treatment personnel and facilities.

Here, Defendants argued that the Center’s file included communications between Brown and his psychotherapists for the purpose of diagnosing and treating his drug addiction. However, Florida law provides an exception to psychotherapist-patient privilege where the party asserting the privilege (the patient) “relies upon the condition as an element of the party’s claim or defense.” Plaintiff argued that the exception applied because Brown and his mother both testified that he did not remember the accident.

The court concluded that the fact that Plaintiff’s claims made Brown’s mental health an issue was not sufficient to overcome the privilege. The privilege exception applies when the patient, not the opposing party who seeks the privileged information, places his mental health at issue. In Cruz-Govin v. Torres, the Third District ruled that the defendant’s records for substance abuse treatment after his car accident were protected by the privilege, despite the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the accident. The Third District found that the defendant in that case did not place his own mental health at issue in the case by simply denying the claims.

Thus, “[w]e likewise quash the order on review, insofar as it pertains to nonparty Delray Recovery Center,” the court ruled.

It’s important to note that the Court’s ruling does not mean that Plaintiff will not be able to win her case, only that she cannot access the Center’s records.

The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine work hard to zealously represent clients throughout the region, including in Pompano Beach, Coral Springs and Boca Raton. Anidjar & Levine’s lawyers commonly represent individuals who were injured in vehicle collisions, and persevere to get the best possible results for our clients. If you were involved in a rear end collision, a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney can help you to weigh all of your legal options. Call Anidjar & Levine’s Fort Lauderdale office today at 800-747-3733.

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