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Appeals Court States Ambulance Records Are Admissible as Medical Records

need-an-ambulance-1512594In a decision recently issued by the Appeals Court – Commonwealth v. Palacios – the Court held that ambulance records are admissible under G. L. c. 233, § 79G, which governs the admissibility of hospital records. Therefore, the Court held that the trial judge’s decision to admit such records was not an error.

The background of the case was as follows. “The defendant ran a stop sign and crashed into … another driver’s car…. The responding police officer found the defendant to be glassy-eyed and unsteady on her feet…. [I]n response to [the officer’s] questioning, [the defendant stated] that ‘she had been drinking and had approximately two to three drinks.’ Because the defendant claimed to be injured,” she was transported by Cataldo Ambulance Services to Whidden Memorial Hospital. “Cataldo emergency medical technicians (EMTs) made several observations of the defendant, which they recorded on a form that was admitted as an exhibit in redacted form. The ‘clinical impressions’ section of the form states, ‘Primary Impression: pain — arm; Secondary Impressions: intoxication — alcohol acute.’ The ‘narrative’ section of the form include[s] details of the defendant’s condition, including references to her consumption of alcohol: ‘…. Pt is A&Ox4 but smelling of alcohol…. [P]t … complaining of left arm pain…. [B]ecause she is inebriated pt is counseled to be transported to hospital for evaluation and agrees.’ The Whidden records of the defendant’s visit were also admitted in evidence in redacted form. [Those] records convey that the defendant … had neck and arm pain. [They also] contain notes about the defendant’s alcohol consumption including, ‘alcohol intoxication’; ‘Acute alcohol intoxication’; ‘Patient … also intoxicated’; and ‘Pt admits to drinking tonight.’” The defendant was ultimately charged with operating under the influence alcohol under G. L. c. 90, § 24.

At trial, the Commonwealth filed a motion in limine, seeking to admit both the Cataldo and Whidden records under G.L. c.233, §§79 and 79G. “The defendant filed a cross motion to exclude the records, arguing that the references therein to intoxication were inadmissible because they were not sufficiently related to her treatment or medical history and touched on the ultimate issue of her guilt. The judge ordered the words ‘alcohol acute’ to be redacted from the ambulance records, and the words ‘alcohol intoxication’ to be redacted from the hospital records. Both sets of records, so redacted, were admitted in evidence over the defendant’s objection to the remaining references to her intoxication.” On appeal, “[t]he defendant claim[ed] that the ambulance records were erroneously admitted as hospital records [and] that references to her intoxication should have been redacted.”

In its decision, the Appeals Court cited the relevant statutory language as follows. “[Chapter 233,] Section 79 … provides that ‘[r]ecords kept by hospitals, dispensaries or clinics, and sanatoria … shall be admissible … so far as such records relate to … treatment and medical history.’” “Similarly, … § 79G … provides for the admissibility of ‘an itemized bill and reports, including hospital medical records, relating to medical, dental, [or] hospital services … rendered to or prescribed for a person injured, or any report of any examination of said injured person.’ Such records are admissible as evidence of the cost of medical treatment, of the necessity of treatment, or of the diagnosis, prognosis, or opinion of a ‘physician or dentist’ as to the proximate cause of an injury or as to an injured party’s disability or incapacity. Ibid.” The Court “conclude[d] that the records produced by [the] Cataldo [EMTs] were admissible as proffered, under §79G.” The Court explained that “[w]hile §79G refers to the opinions of a ‘physician’ or ‘dentist,’ the statute defines those professions broadly to also include ‘… other medical personnel licensed to practice….’ (emphasis supplied).” In the Court’s view, EMTs qualify as “other licensed medical personnel.”

The Appeals Court also ruled that the judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting the medical records’ references to the defendant’s intoxication, even though those references did not relate directly to medical treatment. The Court explained that “[i]n OUI cases, we have consistently approved the admission of medical records to show that a criminal defendant has consumed intoxicating liquor shortly before events that led to the defendant’s arrest…. Records admissible in this context include hospital blood tests as well as ‘more personal, less scientific, judgments about alcoholic odor.’ Commonwealth v. McCready, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 521, 524 (2000).”

If you or a loved one is charged in a case where the admission of medical or hospital records may negatively impact your case, it is of the utmost importance that you have an experienced attorney who is up to date on the law and who is ready, willing, and able to do everything in his power to prevent harmful evidence from being admitted against you at trial. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is such an attorney. Call him for a consultation today.