A positive development

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

On Nov. 23, 2011, Gov. Quinn signed into law Public Act 97-623, effective immediately.  It creates a procedure through which certain family members can access the medical records of deceased family members without initiating a separate legal proceeding. The statutorily prescribed procedure for obtaining those records is quite straightforward and represents a welcome change from the old regime.  Senate Bill 1694 also amends the Illinois Power of Attorney for Health Care so as to allow an agent appointed to the deceased under power of attorney to obtain the deceased person’s medical records upon their death.

Section 8-2001.5 provides, firstly, that the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate, or agent appointed by the deceased under power of attorney may make a written request for a copy of the deceased person’s medical records. If no executor, administrator of the estate of the deceased, or agent is appointed and the deceased person did not specifically object to the disclosure of their records in writing then certain family members may request the records in writing.

The first person specified by the Act is the deceased person’s surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse then anyone of the deceased person’s adult children, parents or adult brothers or sisters may request the records. Additionally, the statute includes specific language that can be included in the written requests by family members. Again, it is quite straightforward and simply involves certifying that the person making the request is the appropriate relation to the deceased and then making a formal request.

I personally think this is a very positive development and it seems to have received more or less across-the-board support. First, the death of a family member or loved one is one of the most traumatic difficult experiences in life. It’s made all the worse when the circumstances surrounding the death suggest it may have been someone else’s fault, whether that’s a medical professional or the driver of a vehicle, for example. In order for a deceased person’s family member to even get closure, obtaining medical records is essential. Of course, viewing the medical records may have the opposite effect of giving closure. It may convince a family that they need to speak to a wrongful death attorney. But preventing a family from even being able to make an informed decision on such a painful and important matter, on account of legal hurdles, is illogical.

It is also contrary to common sense to make it more complicated for a deceased person’s loved ones to bring a case on their behalf than it is for a person injured, though not killed, in identical circumstances to bring a lawsuit. Often wrongful death cases involved both a case filed in the name of the appropriate relative and another one filed in the name of the deceased person’s estate. Thankfully, the law has been amended to reflect common sense and remove some of the difficulties faced grieving families.

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