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Muller v. Wal-Mart – Protecting Privacy While Pursuing Injury Compensation

Defendants in personal injury cases are tenacious when it comes to rooting through the records of the plaintiff.

Of course, there are often legitimate purposes served in these efforts, primarily in determining whether the causation and extent of injury are as claimed by plaintiff. But many of these efforts go too far.

Luckily, we do have the court system to keep it in check. Still, you can’t count on the judge to fight for your best interests and privacy concerns. That’s the job of your attorney.

Our injury lawyers know it’s not just about what’s good for the case. It’s about your dignity and your future and your right not to have every irrelevant and potentially embarrassing detail in your past dragged out into public view just because you seek to hold a negligent party responsible for causing injury.

Florida provides for broad protections when it comes to privacy. Article 1, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution details these rights. A policy that compels disclosure through the discovery phase of civil litigation must be limited to that which is necessary for the court to make a determination on a contested issue.

Typically the standard procedure when it is alleged a defense request for information or records is overly-broad is for the judge to conduct an in-camera review of those records. That is, the judge will privately look through the records to determine whether the information is relevant, whether there is a violation of privacy and whether the risk of that violation outweighs the value of the information to the case.

In the recent case of Muller v. Wal-Mart, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal weighed a grant of disclosure of plaintiff military records to a defendant in a truck accident case. This request was approved despite a lack of in camera inspection.

According to court records, plaintiff sustained injury at a distribution center when he was allegedly struck by a truck owned by a large box store company and driven by that store’s employee. As a result of that crash, he alleged, he has sustained permanent injury, pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, mental anguish, loss of life enjoyment and aggravation of a pre-existing condition. He’s also seeking compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and loss of earning capacity.

In the course of discovery, the defense learned plaintiff had served in the U.S. Army for nearly a dozen years in three different countries – incurring three separate injuries in that time.

Plaintiff contends it is not aggravation of those injuries for which he is seeking damages. Still, defendant demanded he turn over all his military records – personnel file, medical records and anything else on file. Plaintiff argued those records were irrelevant.

Trial court granted defense request, but appellate court reversed.

The court noted in all likelihood, there were documents in those records that could help the defense, and they probably were relevant. However, there were also likely records in those files that would not be relevant and that would cause an unreasonable breach of privacy.

Without an in-camera inspection, it would be impossible to know which documents were which. Therefore, appellate court remanded the case with orders to conduct an in-camera inspection before determining the scope of plaintiff military records that could be released to defendant.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Muller v. Wal-Mart, May 22, 2015, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Social Media Posts Examined in Personal Injury Cases, May 19, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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