Safety committee's records not privileged: federal court

A wheelchair ramp incident is at the heart of the lawsuit.
A wheelchair ramp incident is at the heart of the lawsuit.

A North Carolina nursing home operator can't claim privilege in protecting documents created by its safety committee from discovery, a federal trial court has ruled.

The court ruled an SSC Silver Stream Operating Co. safety committee didn't qualify as a quality assurance committee since it met separately and kept records separate from its quality assurance and performance improvement committee.

The case stems from the death of 84-year-old David W. Jackson Sr., allegedly from injuries sustained in a 2013 accident involving a wheelchair ramp at a Wilmington nursing home in the Sava Senior Care chain. Corporate parent Sava requested to be dismissed from the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs did not object, leaving SSC Silver Stream as the lone defendant.

Family members of the resident requested all safety audits involving the facility's entrance and grounds, meeting minutes or documents from the safety committee, the safety committee's toolkit and incident reports. 

The operator declined, claiming privilege under a state law that protects documents prepared by or for a quality assurance committee.

The law defines a quality assurance committee as a department of a nursing home that is “formed for the purpose of evaluating the quality, cost of, or necessity for healthcare services under applicable federal and state statutes, regulations and rules.” 

SSC Silver Stream did prevail on a few points in the order signed by Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones Jr. Plaintiffs requested all documents pertaining to any injuries suffered on the exterior premises of the facility for the two years prior to the Jackson incident. The court, however, limited its order to documents about issues involving only the ramp for the two years previous.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Southern Division.