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Is a Breach of Patient Privacy Ever Medically Negligent?

Patient PrivacyIn today’s digital world, privacy is an ever-present concern. The medical field is no exception to this, with many different tools in place to help ensure patient information is protected. However, sometimes those tools fail, and sometimes they can fail in such a way as to actually be negligent. Not every violation of privacy is negligent, but some are so egregious that they can cause harm to the person so injured. If you have experienced this situation, it is a good idea to ensure that you know the law before bringing suit.

Legal Remedies For Breach of Privacy

While many people consider a right to privacy to be one of the most important, it is unfortunately not very well protected, in part because so many different definitions of ‘privacy’ exist. In the medical field, several laws exist to protect patients’ medical information, including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the California-specific Confidentiality of Medical Information Act. (CMIA) Violations of these acts are usually punishable by fines, though it is also possible for the violation to be charged as a misdemeanor.

Despite this, many injured plaintiffs have lost out on just compensation by virtue of the fact that there is a cap on the relevant law that limits damages to approximately $3,000 plus attorney’s fees. The statute allows for compensatory damages, but they are very rarely granted, simply because most incidents where breach of privacy can cause real harm can appear very inconsequential to a jury. If, however, you are able to show that this breach of your privacy directly caused you real harm, it is more likely that you may be able to allege medical malpractice or negligence.

Precedent Exists in the U.S.

While, as of this writing, no ruling has yet been handed down in California that has awarded damages to a plaintiff based on an individual breach of privacy, it has happened elsewhere in the country, namely in Indiana and Connecticut. Under California law, it is eminently plausible that this could change in the near future. The state’s negligence law stipulates four things must be shown in order to allege medical negligence:

  • The existence of a standard of care between doctor and patient, which is established by law in California;
  • The breach of that standard;
  • A showing that any harm suffered was the direct result of the doctor’s breach of duty; and
  • Real harm - not necessarily physical harm, but an injury that has a substantial effect on the person’s life.

In an individual breach of privacy, it is generally not difficult to show a breach of the medical duty of care - a doctor’s duty includes complying with all relevant laws, including the CMIA, and a breach of privacy is almost always a breach of CMIA - or tangible harm. However, showing causation can be complex, especially if the person breaching the information is not a direct employee of the office or physician you saw. For example, a data technician in a hospital system may not be affiliated directly with a particular physician. However, since in such a scenario, both would be answerable to hospital authorities, it would still be proper to bring suit against the hospital system in a respondeat superior action.

Seek Experienced Legal Assistance

Having your private matters become public knowledge can be a terrifying experience, and while the federal government may focus more on widespread, large-scale data breaches, individual leaks can affect your life far more profoundly. If you believe your doctor has disregarded your right to privacy, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced legal professional. The San Jose medical negligence attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand that your privacy is one of the most important things to you, and will work hard for you to ensure there are consequences for its breach. Contact us today at (408) 289-1417 to set up an initial appointment. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of San Benito, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Monterey.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.