State Judicial Building

The Iowa Supreme Court says information gathered for a patient safety study cannot be used in a lawsuit against a hospital.

Dennis Willard was seriously injured in an accident in Davenport in November of 2011 and was transferred from the hospital there to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.

He was sedated for a scan of his stomach to check for injuries. After returning from the scan he had problems with his left arm, and an x-ray found his shoulder was dislocated.

The x-rays taken before the scan had not shown the dislocated shoulder and Willard believed the shoulder was dislocated as he was moved for the scan, so he filed a lawsuit against the hospital. He sought to get a copy of what’s called a Patient Safety Net report that was filed about an incident during the scan.

The incident reports are intended to help improve the safety of hospitals and under Iowa law are required to remain confidential. The district court ruled he should be given the report as part of the discovery phase of the lawsuit.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Willard cannot have the report as the confidentiality given the reports allows hospital staff to feel comfortable reporting problems and that information is utilized to improve patient safety by reducing preventable medical errors. The ruling says the protection is intended to apply to documents or communications that constitute “patient safety work product.”

Here’s the full ruling: Hospital safety report ruling PDF