Medical records are an important part of a Baltimore medical malpractice lawsuit. But, what happens when a medical provider doesn’t seem to be cooperating with a request to provide medical documents? The Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation recently found itself facing a lawsuit over its response.

Diana Miller, a patient at Johns Hopkins, grew dissatisfied with her medical treatment and asked for a copy of her records from Hopkins’ medical records department through her attorney. When she didn’t get the documents upon her first request, she asked for the medical records two more times.

Under Maryland law, if a health care provider knowingly refuses to provide a medical record within a reasonable time but no more than 21 working days after the date the records are requested, the health care provider is liable for actual damages.

About four months after the first request when the medical records still hadn’t been produced, the woman’s attorney told the hospital he could sue the Baltimore-based medical services provider if it continued to refuse to provide the requested records. About a week later, he told the health care provide that he would sue if it continued to refuse to provide the records, Then, a week after that, when the records were not produced, he actually did sue Johns Hopkins, claiming damages of more than $30,000.

At a hearing in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the judge asked whether anyone at Hopkins had said: “We’re not going to produce the records?” The woman’s attorney said that representatives of the Baltimore medical services institution had never “said those magic words.” The trial court concluded that the woman had not made factual allegations that were strong enough to overcome a motion to dismiss. The Baltimore trial court noted that there was a “fundamental distinction” based on statutory language “between a mere failure to produce medical records quickly enough and a knowing refusal to provide them.”

On appeal, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Court of Special Appeals noted that Miller needed to provide facts that would establish that Hopkins “knowingly refused” to provide her medical records within 21 days of a valid request to survive a motion to dismiss. The court noted that in an earlier case, it had held that refusing to provide medical records generally means “intentional, as opposed to negligent or contractual, conduct” and that a “mere failure to produce records” is not a violation of the statute. The court also noted that it was clear under the earlier case that “mere failures to produce requested medical records” were not punished.

Miller was required to allege specific facts that would show an intent on the part of Hopkins not to produce the records, the appeals court said. Evidence of refusal could be shown by less direct language than “I refuse to turn over your records” or through circumstantial facts such as phone calls repeatedly ignored or some clear personal animosity between Miller and a custodian of the records, for example. “At some point, a prolonged, unexplained failure to turn over the records would start to look like stonewalling – constructive refusal,” the court observed.

If you think you have a Baltimore medical malpractice claim, a Baltimore medical malpractice attorney can help. The consultation is free. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience handling Baltimore medical malpractice lawsuits. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202-288-0167, the law office at 410-934-3007 or through the website for a free consultation.