Appellate Division Enforces The Self-Critical Analysis Privilege Protections of the Patient Safety Act

On February 6, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial court ruling by holding that a hospital’s failure to notify regulators of a treatment error does not mean that the hospital loses the privilege and confidentiality afforded to its internal self-critical analysis under the Patient Safety Act.

The matter of Brugaletta v. Chilton Memorial Hospital, et al. concerned a claim of medical malpractice by a patient, Ms. Brugaletta. During discovery she sought the hospital’s internal self-critical analysis of her care. The trial judge initially ruled the documentation should be produced claiming that Ms. Brugaletta had suffered a “serious preventable adverse event” (“SPAE”) and that the hospital had failed to report the event to the New Jersey Department of Health or Ms. Brugaletta in violation of the Patient Safety Act. The hospital appealed that determination disputing that Ms. Brugaletta suffered an SPAE and that it had any reporting obligation to the Department or Ms. Brugaletta.

The Patient Safety Act (N.J.S.A. 26:2H-12.23, et al.) creates an absolute privilege over certain documents that a hospital develops as part of a self-critical analysis. In analyzing the Patient Safety Act, the Appellate Division held that the only statutory precondition of the self-critical analysis privilege is compliance with the statutory requirement that hospitals develop and implement a patient safety plan in accordance with the requirements established by the commissioner by regulation. Thus, as long as the proper procedure is followed as set forth in the hospital’s safety plan, then the self-critical analysis is protected by the privilege.

The Appellate Division rejected any interpretation whereby the self-critical analysis privilege was conditioned on a hospital meeting its reporting obligations. Rather, it viewed those as a separate and distinct obligation under the Patient Safety Act. The Appellate Division also disagreed with the trial court’s finding that an SPAE had occurred as the trial court failed to identify record evidence to make such a conclusion, specifically with regard to causation. 

Thus, the Appellate Division found the trial court had erred in compelling the hospital to disclose the self-critical analysis and in finding that the hospital failed to report an alleged SPAE to the Department and Ms. Brugaletta.

This case and decision are just the most recent example of the continuing efforts by patients to challenge the protections of the Patient Safety Act and the courts’ efforts at determining the legislature’s intended purpose of the statute’s language. History suggestions this will not be the last such case.