COA: Franciscan not liable for patient’s files posted on social media

A woman whose medical records were improperly accessed and posted on Facebook was unable to get a remedy when the Indiana Court of Appeal found Franciscan Alliance Inc. was neither liable nor negligent for the actions its employee.

Leslie Hayden filed a lawsuit against Franciscan after her X-rays, taken at St. Francis Hospital, were posted on social media. The hospital discovered Brooke Collins, a registrar in the hospital’s radiology department, had improperly and without authorization accessed Hayden’s confidential medical records.

After the Marion Superior Court granted summary judgment to Franciscan, Hayden appealed. She argued the health care provider was liable for Collins’s actions under respondeat superior and for negligently hiring and retaining, training, and monitoring and supervising Collins.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in Leslie D. Hayden v. Franciscan Alliance, Inc., 18A-CT-1777.

Persuaded by Doe v. Lafayette School Corp., 846 N.E.2d 691 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006) and Robbins v. Trustees of Indiana University, 45 N.E. 3d 1 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), the unanimous appellate panel found Franciscan was not liable under respondeat superior because Collins was acting outside the scope of her employment.

Collins, the court noted, knew she was limited to accessing only the medical information she needed to perform her job, and that inappropriate use or disclosure of records could result in legal action. She had no legitimate business need to look at Hayden’s files, and she was “expressly not authorized” to do so. Further, she admitted to accessing Hayden’s X-rays 11 days after the plaintiff visited the radiology department.

“The trial court properly granted summary judgment to Franciscan on the issue of respondeat superior,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the court. “Franciscan established that Collins accessed the medical records for non-employment-related reasons, in direct violation of the confidentiality agreement she signed at the onset of her employment with Franciscan. Hayden failed to designate any evidence to the contrary.”

Also, the Court of Appeals concluded Franciscan was not negligent in hiring, training and overseeing Collins even though her background check showed she had been arrested but not convicted for felony theft and misdemeanor conversion while in high school. Collins was arrested for stealing medicine from Walmart and for stealing $400 from her father.

The appellate court pointed out the arrests had occurred six years before Franciscan hired Collins, and she had no history of accessing and publishing confidential medical records.

Moreover, the court found the hospital provided regular training on patient privacy and appropriate access to medical records. In addition, supervisors made regular rounds and were able to monitor the computers used by each registrar and perform annual audits that analyzed the online activities.

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