When Can Mental Health Records Be Released In Texas ?
An exception to the general rule that mental health information is confidential exists when a "communication or record relevant to an issue of the physical, mental or emotional condition of a patient in any proceeding in which any party relies upon the condition as a part of the party's claim or defense." Tex. R. Evid. 509(e)(4), 510(d)(5).
In R.K. v. Ramirez, the supreme court extensively reviewed the litigation exception to the general rule that mental health records are privileged. 887 S.W.2d 836 (Tex. 1994).
The R.K. court held that as a general rule, a mental condition will be a part of a claim or defense if the pleadings indicate that the jury must make a factual determination concerning the condition itself.
In other words, information communicated to a doctor or psychotherapist may be relevant to the merits of an action, but in order to fall within the litigation exception to the privilege, the condition itself must be of legal consequence to a party's claim or defense. Id. at 843.
The R.K. court noted that whether a condition is a part of a claim or defense should be determined on the face of the pleadings, without reference to the evidence that is allegedly privileged. Id. at 843 n.7.
"Presumably an in camera inspection could reveal that records are entirely irrelevant or highly prejudicial." Id.
In R.K., the plaintiffs specifically alleged in their fifth amended petition that the hospital and clinic knew or should have known during the period R.K., a physician, was treating a plaintiff that R.K. had serious mental and psychiatric problems including severe depression; had a history of and continuing problems of drug usage which affected his ability to function as a medical doctor; was not mentally, emotionally or physically competent to perform the functions of an unsupervised attending physician; and had a history of criminal behavior and was not morally fit to care for the plaintiff. Id. at 839 n.3.
The petition alleged that these mental, physical and character problems adversely affected R.K.'s medical judgment and his ability to care for one of the plaintiffs.
After reviewing the pleadings, the R.K. court agreed with the trial court that the information sought was relevant to R.K.'s condition that was at issue and that a jury determination that the mental condition existed was of legal significance to the plaintiff's negligence claim. Id. at 844.