Indiana Court of Appeals Reinstates Respondeat Superior Claim in HIPAA Breach Lawsuit

A patient who sued Parkview Health System Inc. after a medical assistant accessed her medical records and shared sensitive information with another individual has had her respondeat superior claim reinstated by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Haley SoderVick sued Parkview Health System after she was notified that a medical assistant had accessed her medical records and disclosed the information to her then husband. The medical assistant’s husband had posted a picture on Facebook that was liked by SoderVick, which prompted the disclosure.

SoderVick had visited Parkview Health in October 2017 and underwent a medical examination in the OB/GYN department. While she was there, her medical records were accessed by the medical assistant, Alexi Christian.

Christian texted her husband information about SoderVick, stating she was a patient at the facility, disclosed a potential diagnosis, and told her husband SoderVick was a dispatcher. She also told her husband that SoderVick was HIV-positive and had had more than 50 sexual partners, although both claims were false and that information had not been obtained from her medical record. Christian said she was concerned her husband may have known Sodervick after she had liked his post, and wanted to know if her husband, Caleb Thomas, had had a sexual relationship with SoderVick.

The text messages were later seen by Thomas’ sister who had borrowed Thomas’ phone. She reported the HIPAA violation to Parkview Health and forwarded the text message, which prompted an investigation that led to the termination of Christian for the HIPAA violation.

After being notified about the HIPAA breach, SoderVick took legal action claiming Parkview health was vicariously liable for the actions of Christian, that the healthcare provider was negligent for failing to provide appropriate training and supervision, and alleged Parkview Health had violated its statutory and common-law duties of data protection and privacy as required by HIPAA.

Parkview Health sought summary judgement on the claims, which were ultimately granted. The trial court ruled that “Christian’s texts to a third party, whether they contained truthful information or false information about SoderVick, clearly fell outside the scope of her employment with Parkview and, therefore, Parkview is not vicariously liable for these acts.”

SoderVick appealed the respondent superior claim and a majority reversed the decision in the Court of Appeals. In its motion for summary judgement, Parkview argued there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Christian was acting in the scope of her employment. “We find that that there is a genuine issue of fact on the scope of employment issue; specifically, there is an issue of fact as to whether Christian’s conduct was incidental to authorized employment activities,” concluded the COA. “We therefore find that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Parkview on the respondeat superior claim, reverse that portion of the order, and remand for further proceedings.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.