By Pat Iyer, RN, www.medleague.com, www.patiyer.com/hb The Heinzerling v. David Goldfarb case was decided 10 years ago. This case was heard by Judge Sabatino of Mercer County. In this case, the plaintiff attorney, Gerald Stockman, used a nurse to summarize the medical records of Sieglinde Heinzerling.
Ms. Heinzerling was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997 and died 10 months later. Larry Heinzerling, her husband, alleged that her medical providers were negligent for failing to diagnose the cancer sooner.
I met Larry Heinzerling when he came to the office of Gerald Stockman when I was consulting with him on his personal injury and medical malpractice cases. In the course of my consulting with Gerry, I explained the role of a nurse in summarizing medical records to help the jury understand symptoms and treatment. Prior to (and after) the Heinzerling case, I testified on several cases in this capacity for other attorneys. Gerry listened to my ideas, filed them away, and retained a nurse to summarize the records.
The defense objected to the nurse’s role; Judge Sabatino heard the arguments and issued his opinion. He referred to the New Jersey Evidence Rule 1006 which states that:
The contents of voluminous writings or photographs which cannot be conveniently examined in court may be presented by a qualified witness in the form of a chart, summary, or calculation. The originals or duplicates shall be made available for examination or copying or both, by other parties at a reasonable time and place. The judge may order that they be produced to court.
Judge Sabatino cited several other cases and rules of evidence. He found that live testimony by the nurse would be more readily understood and accessed by a lay jury than dry written materials. He denied the defendants’ motion in limine to bar the nurse’s testimony. This case subsequently settled.
The Heinzerling decision provided a substantial support for other attorneys who retain nurses to summarize medical records. It has made it easier to introduce this type of testimony, and it has made it easier for juries to understand complex medical details. The nurse acts as the interpretor of the patient’s experiences as documented in the medical record. The nurse gives the patient a voice.