Rogue nurse prompts call to revisit privacy rulings

October 2, 2015

Noting technology is advancing faster that privacy law, an Indiana Court of Appeals judge is urging the Indiana Supreme Court to revisit precedent regarding invasion of privacy claims.

Judge Terry Crone raised the issue in his concurring opinion in Courtney R. Robbins v. The Trustees of Indiana University and Clarian Health Partners, Inc., 49A04-1412-CT-583. Robbins sued the defendants after her medical records were accessed and posted on the Internet by a licensed practical nurse, Tiffaney DeBow.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Clarian and IU. The majority found Clarian could not be subject to vicarious liability because DeBow was not directly employed by the company. IU was not vicariously liable because the nurse was acting outside the scope of her employment.

DeBow pulled up the medical records of Robbins and her children 42 times within the first three days of her employment at the IU School of Medicine. She then posted the medical information on Robbins’s former boyfriend’s blog. DeBow admitted she had no legitimate reason for accessing the record and instead was motivated by “desired revenge.”

Crone concurred on affirming summary judgment in favor of IU on Robbins’ invasion of privacy claim but only because Indiana does not have a tort for vicarious liability in the public disclosure of private facts.

“Nevertheless, I respectfully urge our supreme court to revisit its pronouncements in (Doe v. Methodist Hospital, 690 N.E.2d 681, 682 (Ind. 1997) and Felsher v. University of Evansville, 755 N.E.2d 589, 593 (Ind. 2001)) in light of the exponential increase in the amount and sensitivity of personal information that has become available online since those cases were decided and the corresponding increase in the speed and ease with which that information may be broadcast to the public,” Crone wrote. “It is difficult to overstate the extent to which we have surrendered, by choice or compulsion, the most intimate details of our lives to the digital domain. …Although much of this information is expected and intended to be disseminated to a wide audience (family vacation photos, job résumés), much is expected and intended to be kept under the electronic equivalent of a lock and key (financial records, psychiatric treatment notes).”



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