Wrongful Death: New law helps family members gain access to records in Illinois

On November 23, Governor Quinn signed SB 1694. The new legislation allows access to a deceased family member’s medical records without the requirement of opening of an estate. SB 1694 will add 5/8-2001.5 to the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure entitled: “Authorization for release of a deceased patient’s records.” 735 ILCS 5/8-2001.5. The new law makes it easier for families of victims to investigate wrongful death claims. Under the new rule, a decedent’s records may be released upon written request by a deceased person’s estate or agent appointed under a power of attorney. If no executor, administrator, or agent exists (and the deceased person made no prior objection), then the deceased’s medical records can be obtained in one of two ways. First, the medical records may be attained by the deceased’s surviving spouse sending written request to the medical facility. Second, if surviving spouse exists, then medical records may be obtained by written request by one of the following: an adult son or daughter of the deceased, a parent of the deceased, or an adult brother or sister of the deceased. The person requesting the records must sign an “Authorized Relative Certification” attesting the fact that the person is entitled and authorized to receive the records under the statute.

Prior to the signing of the new legislation, opening an estate was required prior to requesting the decedent’s medical records. While some hospitals would release medical records, many hospitals and nursing homes used the former rule to obstruct access to medical records in an attempt to hide their negligence. The passage of the new legislation will save significant time and money.

The process of opening a decedent’s estate requires the filing of a petition in the probate court. The new law will allow quicker access to medical records without being required to jump through as many legal hoops. The new legislation reaches an appropriate compromise of allowing family members a timely and cost-effective method of obtaining the decedent’s medical records but still protecting the privacy rights of the decedent by limiting access to medical records to family members. SB 1694 will provide significant help to family members who have lost a loved one through the fault of others. If you have lost a loved one and need access to medical records in order to investigate a claim, you should seek guidance from a knowledgeable attorney right away.
By: Jason P. Schneider of the Law Offices of John Malm & Associates, P.C.