Defense Law Articles
Thomas Paschos & Associates, P.C.
Haddonfield, New Jersey
In Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C., SC 18904 (Conn., November 11, 2014), plaintiff, Emily Byrne, received gynecological and obstetrical services from the defendant, Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C. Plaintiff advised her doctor at the Avery Center not to provide her personal health information to her significant other. However, after the provider received a subpoena from her significant other’s attorneys in a paternity suit, the health center promptly turned over the information without alerting the patient or fighting the subpoena in court. Plaintiff alleged that she suffered harassment and extortion threats from Mendoza after he viewed her medical records, and that Mendoza was able to use the information to file several civil actions, including paternity and visitation actions.
On motions for summary judgment by both parties, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims alleging the defendant (1) acted negligently by failing to use proper and reasonable care in protecting her medical file; and (2) engaged in conduct constituting negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court noted that it is well-settled that HIPAA does not provide a private right of action and agreed with the defendant that “HIPAA preempts ‘any action dealing with confidentiality/privacy of medical information.’” The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that HIPAA does not preempt state common law negligence and emotional distress claims against medical providers who improperly breach the confidentiality of a patient’s medical records and that “HIPAA may inform the applicable standard of care in certain circumstances.”
The court held that preemption applies only when a “state law” provision is contrary to HIPAA. Additionally, state laws that are “more stringent than a standard, requirement, or implementation specification adopted under subpart E of part 164 of this subchapter” are exempt from preemption. In reviewing the regulatory history of HIPAA and its implementing regulations, the court also concluded that HIPAA did not intend to preempt state tort actions resulting from unauthorized disclosure of protected health information. As such, the court concluded that “private rights of action in state courts, to the extent that they exist as a matter of state law, do not preclude, conflict with, or complicate health care providers’ compliance with HIPAA”, which “may inform the relevant standard of care in such actions”.
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