Florida Appeals Court Overturns Discovery Order Due to Constitutional Privacy Concerns

In Muller v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a military veteran was apparently injured when he was hit by a truck at a Florida department store distribution center. At the time of the accident, the truck was being driven by a store employee. Following the accident, the man filed a negligence lawsuit against the store and the driver in a Florida court. In his complaint, the man sought damages for his permanent physical harm, suffering and pain, disability, aggravation of a preexisting condition, lost wages, and more.

During discovery, the department store learned that the man was a veteran of the United States Army who was honorably discharged in 1993. In addition, the man admitted that he was injured three times while serving his country. Despite this, the man claimed that he was not seeking compensation for aggravation of his military injuries. After that, the store sought the man’s entire military medical records, personnel file, and other documents.

In response to the department store’s discovery request, the hurt man filed an objection and supporting memorandum with the court. According to the man, the request sought irrelevant information and violated his right to privacy enumerated in article I, section 23, of the Florida Constitution. He also asked the court to conduct an in camera review of the documents before compelling their production. Such an inspection is normally conducted privately in a judge’s chambers. The store argued the information was relevant to determine whether the man had the capacity to observe his surroundings at the time he was injured.

The circuit court granted the department store’s discovery request, and the man sought certiorari review from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal. On appeal, the court first stated a trial court in Florida must conduct an in camera review of any potentially discoverable documents after a party to a lawsuit asserts a constitutional right to privacy related to the information. The appellate court stated such a review was necessary in order to ensure the requested materials were actually relevant to the case. Additionally, the court said certiorari was appropriate when a trial court opted to compel discovery of such records without conducting an in camera review.

Next, the Court of Appeal said the department store may be correct that the injured man’s military records contain information that could assist the store in defending its case. Despite this, the court stated the records likely contain irrelevant information that must be segregated from any discoverable documents. According to the appellate court, allowing the store to obtain the irrelevant information contained in the injured man’s military records “would be highly intrusive to his privacy interests.”

Since the circuit court ordered the veteran to produce his entire undeleted military record without first examining the information in camera, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the lower court’s discovery order should be quashed. The court also remanded the case for a private review of the former military serviceman’s personnel and other files.

If you were hurt in South Florida as a result of someone else’s negligent act, you need a caring personal injury attorney advocating on your behalf. To discuss your right to recover financial compensation for your injuries with a knowledgeable Miami personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Muller v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2015

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