September 21st, 2016

Superior Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Family Medical Practice

In a recent opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against a family medical practice; confirming that the practice was not liable for an employee’s intentional theft and disclosure of a patient’s medical records.  Attorney Michael J. Blum obtained summary judgment for the family practice in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, then successfully argued in front of a panel of the Superior Court, and finally confirmed judgment when the Superior Court refused to rehear the matter.  This unusual case stems from a medical assistant’s attempt to help one of her friends in a divorce case.  The promptly fired medical assistant obtained protected health information of a woman and disclosed it to the woman’s future ex-husband.  The medical assistant’s acts were clearly a violation of the patient’s right to privacy in her medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Affordability Act (HIPAA).  After the medical assistant was fired she and the family practice faced a lawsuit.

The Superior Court upheld a long-standing principle of law and found that an employer was not vicariously liable for the intentional torts of its employee.  The disclosure of medical information to the ex-husband clearly qualified as an intentional tort.  Furthermore, under HIPAA, there is no private right of action allowed, meaning that an individual cannot sue for money damages in court.  The exclusive remedy when an individual’s medical records or protected health information are disclosed belongs to the Department of Health and Human Services.  The department may fine or sanction a medical provider for improper disclosures, but the court upheld this lawsuit for money damages is precluded.

Michael is an experienced trial attorney focusing in the areas of  medical malpractice defense and general liability defense. He also frequently speaks to health care professionals on patient privacy, record-keeping, and HIPAA regulations.

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