Doe v. Great America LLC.
Summer 2021 | Issue 47
Doe v. Great America LLC.
By: Mark Heyrman
This recent case involves the scope and application of an important provision in the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (“the Confidentiality Act”), 740 ILCS 110/1. The Confidentiality Act generally protects from disclosure of all records and communications involving mental health treatment and provides broad definitions of “records” “communications” and “mental health treatment.” However, an important exception is that when a party to a lawsuit introduces a mental health condition as a claim or defense in the litigation, the individual waives the right to confidentiality.
In Doe v. Great America LLC, 2021 Ill. App. (2d) 200123; 2021 Ill. App. LEXIS 62 (Feb. 24, 2021), the Plaintiff’s family sued Great America Amusement Park (“the Park”) because of injuries the family received when attacked by a group of young people at the Park. The Plaintiffs alleged that the Park was liable for failing to prevent the attack. After the suit was filed, one of the injured plaintiffs, Jane Doe, committed suicide. The complaint was amended by the administrator of the Jane Doe’s estate to add a claim that the suicide was the result of the attack. The Park sought discovery of Jane Doe’s mental health records, claiming that her suicide made her mental health an essential part of her wrongful death claim. The estate refused to provide this information, claiming that it was protected by the Confidentiality Act because the suicide was caused by a brain injury, not a mental illness. When the estate failed to comply with a court order to produce Jane Doe’s mental health records, the estate was held in friendly civil contempt. The estate appealed that decision.
The law regarding whether and under what circumstances an estate can sue for negligence which results in a suicide varies among the states. In Illinois, a suicide is considered “an independent intervening act which is unforeseeable as a matter of law and breaks the chain of causation from the [defendant’s] conduct.” However, an exception exists when, as a result of the defendant’s actions, “the injured person becomes ‘insane and bereft of judgment’ and, while in that condition and as a result of it, he or she commits suicide.” If so, the suicide is not considered a voluntary act and does not break the causal chain. Since Jane Doe’s estate must prove that she became “insane and bereft of judgment”, the estate has introduced her mental illness as part of its claim. Therefore, the Appellate Court held that the estate must produce Jane Doe’s mental health records if it wishes to proceed with the litigation.