Smith Haughey Attorneys Secure Important Victory for Hospital

Holliann Willekes and Jack O’Loughlin successfully defended a hospital in a case involving alleged HIPAA violations and invasion of privacy, with the court dismissing all the plaintiff’s claims on summary disposition. The plaintiff in the case was brought to the hospital’s emergency department for acute intoxication and suicidal ideation. After her emergency treatment she was admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric unit. As part of her admission the plaintiff identified her outside treating therapist and signed an authorization to release records to this therapist, but stated that substance abuse information should not be released. The hospital provided records regarding the plaintiff’s hospital admission to the therapist with the expectation that outpatient therapy would continue after her hospitalization. Those records included information about the plaintiff’s acute intoxication at the time of her admission. The plaintiff alleged that this disclosure violated HIPAA and constituted an invasion of privacy. Unbeknownst to the hospital, the plaintiff was seeing her outside therapist as a condition of probation for a prior criminal offense. The therapist informed the plaintiff’s probation officer of the plaintiff’s intoxication at the time of her hospital admission, which the plaintiff claims resulted in some negative consequences related to her probation. Willekes and O’Loughlin defended the HIPAA claims on the basis that patient consent for record disclosure is not required when the information is disclosed for continued medical care. Also, the invasion of privacy claim failed because the plaintiff could not show that the hospital disclosed any information to the public at large or otherwise unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s privacy interests. This is an important ruling for hospitals, who need to be able to share a patient’s medical information with other treating medical professionals to ensure that the patient receives appropriate care. With this victory Smith Haughey attorneys have helped ensure that hospitals can do so.