Should Ex Parte Conferences Between a Plaintiff's Physician and Defendant or His Lawyer Be Permitted ?

In Petrillo v. Syntex Laboratories, Inc., 148 Ill. App. 3d 581, 499 N.E.2d 952, 102 Ill. Dec. 172 (1986), a product liability action, defense counsel informed the trial court that he had previously met in private with a treating physician for 1 of the 26 plaintiffs in the case. Upon learning of the meeting, plaintiffs' counsel moved to bar any future ex parte communications between defense counsel and any other physician. The trial court granted the motion and entered an order to that effect. Defense counsel, however, informed the court that he did not intend to comply with the order. The trial court, therefore, held the attorney in direct contempt, and the attorney appealed. In affirming the trial court's order, the appellate court initially noted that ex parte conferences were not necessary to obtain information for defending a lawsuit because the discovery methods outlined by Supreme Court Rule 201 were sufficient. The court determined that a review of case law from other jurisdictions revealed that there was not a single instance in which a court found that an ex parte conference was necessary to assist defense counsel in obtaining information that they were unable to acquire through "regular channels of discovery." Petrillo, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 587. The Petrillo court emphasized that society places a high value on the professional duties under which a physician operates, including the dual duties of confidentiality and loyalty. Petrillo, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 589-92. The court noted that certain conduct could be against public policy even in the absence of an express constitutional or statutory prohibition because public policy could be inferred from such sources as statutes or constitutions. Reasoning that there exists a strong public policy in preserving the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and acknowledging the plaintiff's privacy interests, the court determined that ex parte conferences unduly threatened society's interest in maintaining the fiduciary and confidential nature of the relationship. Petrillo, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 595-96. Accordingly, the court held that ex parte conferences between a plaintiff's physician and defendant or his counsel should not be permitted. Petrillo, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 596.