Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ohio Court Creates New Tort For Unauthorized Dislcosure of Medical Information

The Ohio Supreme Court issued a recent decision in Hageman v. Southwest General Health Center, et al. Slip Opinion No. 2008-Ohio-3343 (July 9, 2008), holding that an attorney's unauthorized disclosure of medical information obtained during litigation in a separate proceeding could be the basis of a tort claim. The decision in Hageman has implications regarding the waiver of confidentiality and the secondary release of medical information under a standard HIPAA compliant authorization.

The Court in Hageman held:
With these considerations in mind, we hold that when the cloak of confidentiality that applies to medical records is waived for the purposes of litigation, the waiver is limited to that case. An attorney can certainly use medical records obtained lawfully through the discovery process for the purposes of the case at hand—e.g., submitting them to expert witnesses for analysis or introducing them at trial. However, an attorney may be liable to an opposing party for the unauthorized disclosure of that party’s medical information that was obtained through litigation. Thus, as in our decision in Biddle, we conclude that an independent tort exists to provide an injured individual with a remedy for such an action.
In ruling the Court in Hageman ooked to the Court's prior decision in Biddle v. Warren General Hospital, 86 Ohio St.3d 395, 715 N.E. 518 (1999), where the Court found a separate tort for breach of privacy and confidentiality related to medical records.

The Court in Biddle made the following findings:
1. In Ohio, an independent tort exists for the unauthorized, unprivileged disclosure to a third party of nonpublic medical information that a physician or hospital has learned within a physician-patient relationship.

2. In the absence of prior authorization, a physician or hospital is privileged to disclose otherwise confidential medical information in those special situations where disclosure is made in accordance with a statutory mandate or common-law duty, or where disclosure is necessary to protect or further a countervailing interest that outweighs the patient’s interest in confidentiality.

3. A third party can be held liable for inducing the unauthorized, unprivileged disclosure of nonpublic medical information that a physician or hospital has learned within a physician-patient relationship. To establish liability the plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant knew or reasonably should have known of the existence of the physician-patient relationship, (2) the defendant intended to induce the physician to disclose information about the patient or the defendant reasonably should have anticipated that his actions would induce the physician to disclose such information, and (3) the defendant did not reasonably believe that the physician could disclose that information to the defendant without violating the duty of confidentiality
that the physician owed the patient.

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