Clinic Not Liable for Nurse's Breach to Patient's Girlfriend

, New York Law Journal

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The state court responded Thursday that the answer is "no."

The claim is the last remaining cause of action of eight originally brought by Doe. The others, which included breach of contract, negligent hiring, training and supervision of the nurse and negligent infliction of emotional distress, had earlier been dismissed by the U.S. District Court for Western New York or the Second Circuit.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Judges Victoria Graffeo, Susan Phillips Read, Robert Smith and Sheila Abdus-Salaam joined in Pigott's ruling.

Judge Jenny Rivera wrote in a dissent that the majority's ruling was too "narrow" and that it "undermines" the state's public policy to protect the confidentiality of patients' medical records.

That is particularly true, she wrote, in this digital age.

"The ease with which confidential patient information can now spread through personal digital devices and across social networks demands a strong legal regime to protect a patient's confidentiality," Rivera wrote.

Allowing patients a direct cause of action against the health care provider, "unhampered by questions as to whether an employee's conduct occurred within the scope of employment," is the best way to prevent abuses, Rivera said.

But Pigott said that imposing strict liability for any disclosure of patient information by any health care employee is "unnecessary and against precedent."

To extend Rivera's reasoning to one possible scenario, Pigott said, a medical corporation would face damages if a health center receptionist told someone at a cocktail party that a patient had been in the office to see a doctor as a patient.

That patient might have not told his family members about the visit because he did not want to worry them, yet he might have a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty of confidentiality under Rivera's view of the question, Pigott argued.

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