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Privacy and Public Health Reporting Cases

What is the action for a third party breach of medical confidentiality? - Jane Doe v. Community Health Plan-Kaiser Corp., No. 85529 (N.Y.App.Div. 05/11/2000)

Plaintiff was treated by defendant Ericka Klein, a certified psychiatric social worker, at a facility owned and operated by defendant Community Health Plan - Kaiser Corporation (CHP).  Plaintiff brought this action based on a claim that a medical records clerk at CHP improperly released information about her treatment.  Plaintiff made several negligence-based claims, plus a statutory claim based on violation of the New York medical confidentiality law.  The key issue on this appeal is whether the corporate employer is subject to suit based on the improper actions of its employee.  The court finds that the New York law, one of the oldest in the United States, does provide for legal sanctions against a corporate provider based on the improper actions of its employees.  As the court notes, any other result would made the statute meaningless because the employer would always claim that illegal actions by its employees were outside the course and scope of their work and thus cannot be attributed to the employer.  The court found, however, that this law does not grant a private right of action.  Instead, the plaintiff may use a tort law claim based on the violation of the fiduciary duty owed by defendant to safeguard plaintiff's confidential information.  The court noted that while this duty originated in the physician patient relationship, it has been broadened to include social workers: "Our court has enunciated that 'communications to be fostered in the social worker/client relationship are confidential' and a 'plaintiff is entitled to invoke the privilege of professional confidence a breach of which is actionable as a tort even though it arises from a contractual relationship.'"

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