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A woman in Alabama has been awarded $300,000 in damages after a doctor illegally accessed and disclosed her protected health information to a third party.
Plaintiff Amy Pertuit filed a lawsuit against Medical Center Enterprise (MCE) in Alabama, a former MCE physician, and an attorney over the violation of her privacy in January 2015.
According to lawyers for the plaintiff, Amy Pertuit’s husband was experiencing visitation issues and was involved in a custody battle with his former wife, Deanna Mortenson.
Deanna Mortenson contacted Dr. Lyn Diefendfer, a physician at MCE, and convinced her to obtain health information about Amy Pertuit for use against her ex husband in the custody battle. Dr. Diefendfer accessed Pertuit’s records through the Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Program website and disclosed the information to her attorney, Gary Bradshaw. Since Dr. Diefendfer had no treatment relationship with Pertuit, she was not authorized to access her medical information. The access and disclosure were violations of hospital policies and HIPAA Rules.
After discovering that her health information had been disclosed, Pertuit lodged a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights which put the hospital on notice. However, the hospital failed to implement appropriate sanctions against Dr. Diefendfer, who accessed further health information in 2016 and disclosed that information to her attorney.
The plaintiff’s lawyers also said the hospital’s privacy officer had investigated Dr. Diefendfer and discovered 22 separate violations of hospital policies and HIPAA Rules.
The lawsuits filed against Dr. Diefender, Deanna Mortensen, and Gary Bradshaw were all settled out of court. The case against MCE went to a jury trial.
The jury unanimously found MCE had failed to take appropriate action against Dr. Diefender after the discovery of the privacy violation and awarded the plaintiff $295,000 in punitive damages and a further $5,000 as compensation for pain, suffering, and humiliation.