Following recent SCOTX precedent, the Houston [14th] Court of Appeals has ordered a Harris County trial court to permit defendants to obtain discovery of the plaintiff’s mental health treatment records relevant to the plaintiff’s claim for mental anguish damages.

In re Williams Brothers Construction Co., Inc. and Luis Flores (No. 14-24-00289-CV; May 24, 2024) arose from a personal injury action for injuries allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Plaintiff’s pleadings and deposition testimony showed that she relied on her physical, mental, or emotional condition as part of her claims for economic and noneconomic damages. Likewise, Defendants rely on Plaintiff’s condition as part of their defenses to damages. Defendants served notice of depositions and subpoenas duces tecum for Plaintiff’s medical records from providers who treated her for her claimed injuries, including her former psychiatrist. Plaintiff objected and filed a motion to quash, arguing that her mental health records were outside the scope of discovery and that she would not claim that the accident caused her PTSD. Following a hearing, the trial court signed an order granting Plaintiff’s objections and quashing Defendants’ request to take the psychiatrist’s deposition and get the medical records. Defendants sought mandamus relief.

The court conditionally granted mandamus. The court referred to SCOTX’s (very) recent opinion in In re Richardson Motorsports, Ltd. (No. 22-1167; May 10, 2024), which held that the privilege against disclosure of medical and mental health care treatment records does not apply “if any party relies on the patient’s physical, mental, or emotional condition as part of the party’s claim or defense and the communication or record is relevant to that condition.” Here Plaintiff’s “mental or emotional conditions are part of her claim,” and “relators rely on [Plaintiff’s] mental or emotional condition as part of their defense that her anguish and pre- and post-accident causes.” Consequently, the privileges don’t apply, and the trial court erred in ruling that they did.

We are obviously pleased that SCOTX’s eminently reasonable holding in In re Richardson Motorsports, Ltd. is having an immediate impact. One thing, nevertheless, to add to our list of possible noneconomic damages reforms would be an explicit exception to the privilege protecting a claimant’s mental health treatment in any claim for mental anguish damages. In other words, simply seeking those damages puts the claimant’s mental health condition at issue, as well as the defendant’s defenses to damages.


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