The Privacy Concerns in Getting Witness Information

In all kinds of cases, witnesses can provide vital information that can lead a jury to enter a verdict for damages in favor of an injured person. Witness information is of particular importance where facts are disputed. A single witness, especially neutral witnesses with no stake in the outcome, can be the difference between recovering for an injury and being left with nothing.

In many cases, witnesses voluntarily come forward. For example, someone who witnesses a car accident may remain on the scene, and provide their contact information to an investigating police officer, or a treating doctor may be expected to be called as witnesses. 

But what about witnesses that may not have come forward voluntarily? Or aren’t even aware they have information to provide? How does someone who is injured get their information to call them to testify at an injury trial?

The Privacy Balancing Act

There is a balancing act between an injured person’s right to get evidence to prove their case, and an innocent witnesses’ right to privacy. The Florida Constitution explicitly contains a right to privacy, and many businesses or health care providers that are asked to provide names of witnesses will often assert the privacy of the witnesses (who are often their customers, employees or patients) in order to avoid producing such information.

A recent case, for example, demonstrates these kinds of problems. In Sovereign Healthcare Port St. Lucie v. Fernandes a nursing home patient was injured while in the home. The victim’s attorneys requested the names of other patients, in order to get their testimony about how the injured person was treated. 

The nursing home objected, claiming that the information of their residents who were not directly involved in the suit were private and privileged. There is some merit to this. Surely, we have an expectation that our private information will not be turned over just because someone in the nursing home bed next to us files a lawsuit.

But the appellate court noted Florida’s rules which allow for parties to discover the names and identities of witnesses. In doing so, it determined that the nursing home would have to provide the names and addresses of the other residents to the victim’s attorney. 

More Detailed Information May Be Difficult to Obtain

It should be noted that courts may be less willing to compel production of more detailed witness information. For example, medical charts with personal medical information, or financial or bank records, often will not be allowed to be disclosed. 

In more sensitive cases with more sensitive witness information involved, a party may either have records redacted (blacked out), or may have a court review the records in question privately, to determine how sensitive the requested information is, and whether and how much will be produced. 

In all cases, an injured party will have to demonstrate that the information is relevant and can’t be obtained elsewhere. Courts usually won’t provide witness information if the injured party is just fishing for information. A demonstrable reason why the witness information is needed and why it can’t be obtained anywhere else will usually need to be shown before a court allows uninvolved witness information to be disclosed. 

Understanding how to get difficult or unavailable evidence can be the difference between winning and losing your injury case. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury or malpractice case.

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