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WILLIAM R. STENGER v. LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL CENTER (08/02/89)

decided: August 2, 1989.

WILLIAM R. STENGER, DONNA A. STENGER, CRAIG STENGER AND BARRY STENGER, APPELLANTS,
v.
LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL CENTER, SAMUEL HUSTON, THEODORE J. MATULEWCZ, M.D., BARRY H. SLAVEN, M.D., HOSPITAL CENTRAL SERVICES, INC., H.C.S.C.-BLOOD CENTER TRADING AS SAMUEL W. MILLER MEMORIAL BLOOD CENTER, LYNDAL MOLTHAN, M.D., AND JOSEPH YELO, APPELLEES. WILLIAM R. STENGER, DONNA A. STENGER, CRAIG STENGER AND BARRY STENGER, APPELLEES, V. LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL CENTER, SAMUEL HUSTON, THEODORE J. MATULEWCZ, M.D., BARRY H. SLAVEN, M.D., HOSPITAL CENTRAL SERVICES, INC., H.C.S.C.-BLOOD CENTER TRADING AS SAMUEL W. MILLER MEMORIAL BLOOD CENTER, LYNDAL MOLTHAN, M.D., AND JOSEPH YELO, APPELLEES, APPEAL OF LEHIGH VALLEY HOSPITAL



Appeal from the Order entered February 19, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Civil Division, at No. 87-C-586. Appeal from the Order entered April 22, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh county, Civil Division, at No. 87-C-586.

COUNSEL

Pamela W. Higgins, Philadelphia, for Stenger, appellants (at 2639) and appellees (at 2640).

Georgine A. Olexa, Allentown, for Lehigh Valley, appellants (at 2640) and appellees (at 2639).

David L. Haber, Philadelphia, for Molthan and Yelo, appellees.

Del Sole, Melinson and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Del Sole

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 577]

An order permitting the filing of interlocutory cross-appeals provides the basis for our consideration of the proper extent of discovery available to the parties in this case.

Appellants, the Stengers, ask us to consider whether the trial court erred in refusing to permit them to discover the identity of a blood donor, (Donor) and the identities of recipients of blood from this particular Donor. In a cross-appeal Appellant, Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, seeks review of that portion of the trial court order which directed it to disclose the delivery dates of blood it acquired which may have been contaminated and the test results later conducted on patients who received this blood. Finding that a limited discovery would not constitute an impermissible violation of the Donor's right to privacy, would not override any societal interest and would not violate any physician-patient privilege, we reverse the trial court's order in part. Because upon balance we find the Stengers' need to discover the identity of other recipients of Donor's blood to be outweighed by the recipients' expectation of privacy, we affirm the trial court's refusal to order the disclosure of their identities. Finally, we affirm the trial

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 578]

    court's ruling regarding the Stengers' right to discover the dates of blood shipments and the test results conducted on recipients of this blood as a proper exercise of its discretion in view of the order's limited nature and the protection afforded the recipients from disclosure of their identities.

In October of 1984, Donna Stenger suffered serious personal injuries as a result of an automobile accident. While a patient at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, (the Hospital), she received multiple transfusions of blood and blood products. Approximately a year and a half later Donna Stenger, her husband, William, and their sons Barry and Craig commenced suit against the Hospital, Hospital Central Services, Inc., H.C.S.C. Blood Center t/a Samuel W. Miller Memorial Blood Center (the Blood Center), and various individuals. Their complaint sets forth claims of negligence, breach of warranties, strict liability, battery and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In support of these claims the Stengers allege in their Complaint that in August of 1985, after Donna Stenger's discharge from the Hospital, the Blood Center learned that a donor, who had supplied blood used in Donna Stenger's transfusions, tested positive for the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus (AIDS). The Complaint also alleges that the Blood Center informed the Hospital that blood products transfused into Donna Stenger's circulatory system were or may have been contaminated with the AIDS virus. The Stengers contend that in November of 1986 Donna Stenger was diagnosed as suffering from AIDS which she contracted from blood transfusions. Within the next two months it is alleged that William Stenger and Craig Stenger, the Stengers' six year old son, were diagnosed as having been infected with the AIDS virus. In an Answer to this Complaint it is denied that Donna Stenger was infected with the AIDS virus as a result of receiving blood and/or blood products supplied to the Hospital by the Blood Center. However it is averred that as a result of a look back procedure, which involves donors who have been confirmed to have HTLV-III antibodies, it was learned

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 579]

    through the Hospital records that a prior donation by one of these donors was given to Donna Stenger.

Discovery in this case proceeded under a protective Order of Court prohibiting the disclosure of information discovered in depositions, interrogatories or other forms of the discovery process. Interrogatories were filed by the Stengers along with a request for production of documents. The defendants responded but the Stengers objected and challenged several responses which prompted them to file a Motion to Compel and a request for sanctions. Following argument the trial court entered an order which is the subject of the instant appeals. The court directed the hospital to disclose the delivery dates of blood received from the Blood Center which may have been contaminated and to disclose the AIDS test results of patients who were recipients of this blood. The court also ruled that the Stenger's would be denied access to the identity of the Donor who supplied the blood ultimately used to transfuse Donna Stenger and to the identity of other blood transfusion recipients.

Cross-appeals were filed challenging this order. The Stengers' claim their need to learn the identity of the Donor and the blood transfusion recipients is compelling and without such they would be unable to prove causation or negligent screening procedures. The Appellees respond by arguing that this information is constitutionally protected and protected by the physician-patient privilege. They further claim that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing the Stengers request because of the public policy protecting confidentiality of this information. These same arguments are also advanced with respect to the Hospital's claim that it should not be required to disclose information about the test results conducted on patients who were transfused with potentially contaminated blood and the dates such blood was received by the Hospital.

We will first address the Stengers claim seeking to discover the identity of the individual who donated blood transfused to Donna Stenger and who later tested positive

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 580]

    for AIDS. The Stengers seek this information to prove causation and to develop their claim that the screening process undertaken by the Blood Center was negligent. In regard to the negligence claim it is noted that at the time the Donor donated the blood which was used in Mrs. Stenger's transfusion a test was not yet developed to identify carriers of the AIDS virus. To identify those donors who were in a high risk category certain screening procedures were often utilized. The Stengers wish to question the Donor as to what, if any, screening procedures he or she underwent prior to donating blood. The Stengers also claim the identity of the Donor is relevant and critical to prove causation. They ...


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