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Communications with Opposing Party's Physicians

Adopted: July 21, 1994

Opinion rules that an attorney may not communicate with the opposing party's nonparty treating physician about the physician's treatment of the opposing party unless the opposing party consents.

Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 162 (Third Revision).

Inquiry #1:

Attorney A is defense counsel in a personal injury case. Through discovery, Plaintiff, P, produces complete medical records from her attending physicians. The records of certain of these attending physicians appear to be favorable to the defendant and supportive of defendant's theory of the case. Before the case is set for trial, may Attorney A communicate with Plaintiff's physicians without seeking the consent of Plaintiff or her counsel in order to have the physician decipher his handwriting and medical codes in the records that Attorney A has received as a part of discovery in the civil action?

Opinion #1:

No. Communications with Plaintiff's nonparty treating physician concerning any aspect of the physician's treatment of Plaintiff or the substance of the physician's testimony at trial is unethical as against public policy unless the opposing party consents. See Crist v. Moffatt, 326 N.C. 326, 389 S.E.2d 41 (1990).

Note: This opinion does not address communications with treating physicians in workers' compensation cases and no opinion is thereby expressed as to any ethical or public policy limitations on such communications. See G.S. §97-27.

Inquiry #2:

Under the same circumstances outlined in Inquiry #1, may Attorney A discuss with the physician his generalized opinions without regard to the medical treatment and medical condition of the Plaintiff at issue in the lawsuit?

Opinion #2:

See answer to Inquiry #1.

Inquiry #3:

After the case has been called for trial and the physician in question is subpoenaed as a witness for defense, may Attorney A communicate with physician to discuss the matters set forth in Inquiries #1 and #2 above?

Opinion #3:

See answer to Inquiry #1.

Inquiry #4:

Under the circumstances outlined in Inquiry #3, may Attorney A communicate with physician to arrange for his witness's appearance at the trial?

Opinion #4:

Yes, Attorney A may communicate with the plaintiff's nonparty treating physician in order to arrange the physician's appearance at the trial as a witness.

Inquiry #5:

Under the circumstances mentioned in Inquiry #3, may Attorney A communicate to physician the questions the attorney expects to pose to the physician at trial, so long as neither privileged information or responses to those inquiries are sought from physician?

Opinion #5:

Yes, provided the communication is in writing.

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