COA invites justices to ‘dispel confusion’ in medical privacy case

A woman claiming she experienced invasion of privacy after someone other than her doctor accessed her medical records and shared them with her employer did not sway the Court of Appeals of Indiana differently on its second time hearing the case.

Amanda Henry injured the tip of her ring finger and sought treatment at Community Hospital in Munster in 2018. While at the hospital, X-ray images were taken of Henry’s finger, which had been fractured, and she was advised to take a few days off work at her job as a dog groomer.

When Henry returned to work, her employer showed her and a co-worker X-ray images of Henry’s finger. Henry’s employer’s husband, Ken Laski, was a radiological technician at the hospital and, though not involved in Henry’s care, had accessed the images and shared them with his wife.

Henry filed a complaint against Community Healthcare System Community Hospital alleging general negligence. In 2019, the COA reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint under Trial Rule 12 and remanded for further proceedings in Lake Superior Court.

On remand, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital, finding that there was no provision for recovery for emotional damages without satisfying the modified impact rule, and that Henry did not plead intentional tort or pursue a claim under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.

After hearing oral arguments in the case for a second time, the COA panel affirmed for the hospital in Amanda Henry v. Community Healthcare System Community Hospital, 21A-CT-2150, in a Feb. 15 decision.

This time, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court navigated caselaw appropriately in addressing “the mixed signals the bench and bar have received from our appellate courts regarding Indiana’s recognition (or not) of the sub-torts of invasion of privacy by intrusion on emotional seclusion and (public disclosure of private facts).”

The COA first concluded that Henry’s claims were for emotional injuries related to her intrusion claim, which are not recognized in Indiana appellate decisions involving invasion of privacy by intrusion into emotional seclusion or solace.

“We acknowledge that certain health information is meant to remain private and that there are laws protecting against the disclosure of same, most notably the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996,” Senior Judge John Baker wrote. “Henry makes a good argument as to why intrusion into emotional solace in general should be recognized, especially in terms of medical breaches. Yet, in her particular case, we cannot grant her the relief she seeks.”

The Court of Appeals concluded similarly on the PDPF issue, assuming that PDPF is not yet recognized in Indiana. It also invited the Indiana Supreme Court “to do as Chief Justice Rush and Justice Goff argued” in their dissent of F.B.C. v. MDwise, Inc., 131 N.E.3d.143, 143 (Ind. 2019), and “dispel any confusion surrounding the sub-tort.”

As to Henry’s negligent retention claim, the COA affirmed that the trial court properly concluded that no duty could be imposed based on an examination of Laski’s prior instances of misconduct by receiving notice of parking violations and by repeatedly being tardy.

Lastly, it held that because Indiana does not recognize invasion of privacy by intrusion into emotional seclusion or solace, Henry’s claim for emotional damages could not survive.

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