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What Is An “In Camera Review?”

 

A: First, I will tell you what it is not. It is not a new camera or gadget that is being reviewed on a lawyer's website.

An in camera review is a private screening by a judge involving a piece of evidence that is hotly contested.

In a negligence case, a medical malpractice case or a wrongful death case in New York, there are instances where specific pieces of information or evidence may be in issue and the only way to know whether that evidence is to be released is when a judge personally reviews it and makes a decision.

Here is an example.

Let's say a patient died and the doctor wrote his own notes about the events that occurred. That note did not get put into the hospital record, but was simply a reminder to the doctor of exactly what occurred and why. For some unexplained reason, the doctor held onto those notes and now when the lawsuit was brought against him he pulls out the notes in preparation for his question-and-answer session known as a deposition.

Typically, when a party to a lawsuit has written something that relates to the events surrounding the claim, his attorney is required to turn over those documents so that everyone has an opportunity to read them and learn from them.

We also have the ability to question the doctor about any writings that he made to see if there contradictions between what was recorded at the time and his memory today.

The doctor may reveal that he reviewed his own personal notes in preparation for coming to his question and answer session, but conveniently left those notes at home. When I request a copy of those records, his attorney objects and refuses to turn over those records.

Now I must ask the court to intervene and compel the doctor and his attorney to turn over those records. The doctor's lawyer may have various legal reasons why that particular document should not be released to us. Likewise, we have certain legal arguments that we can make to the court demanding that they produce these records.

In all likelihood, the judge will direct that the doctor's lawyer turn over a copy of the records to him so that he can personally review them and then make an educated decision about whether or not to order the release to all the lawyers in the case.

That is known as an in camera review.