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HIPAA Rights Foil Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit related to a shooting at a Long Island pharmacy has hit a snag related to the patient privacy rights of the shooter. A husband and wife team undertook an armed robbery of a Haven Drugs in Medford, Long Island with the goal of recovering prescription painkillers. The armed robbery resulted in the deaths of four people, including a cashier and the pharmacist. The pharmacist’s widow brought a lawsuit against, among others, a doctor who had been prescribing the couple with painkillers.

The lawsuit alleged that the pharmacist’s wrongful death occurred because of the couple’s addiction to painkillers, and that the physician should have been monitoring his patients more closely in order to watch for signs of addiction. However, a judge was recently forced to throw out the lawsuit after the shooter exercised his rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

What Are HIPAA Rights?

HIPaA is a 1996 Act that contains a variety of provisions related to patient privacy. The crux of the act relates to personally identifiable patient health information (PHI) and the need to keep it confidential. PHI is any piece of health information, such as a disease or record of treatment, that could be matched back to a specific person. Patient records with names attached fall into this category, but things like addresses or even just a patient’s age, in some circumstances, are enough to trigger the law’s protection.

Ordinarily, this law does not interfere with legal cases related to PHI because the court may enter protective orders. These orders ensure the confidentiality of any disclosed information, allowing it to be used in the lawsuit without ever being disclosed to the public at large. However, a New York law, CPLR 4504, applies a stricter standard, forbidding the release of such information by the physician without the consent of the patient, in this case the shooter, regardless of the existence of a protective order.

How This Affects the Lawsuit

The interaction of the New York Law with HIPAA forced the judge to throw out the widow’s claims against two of the doctors involved in the action. Without the patient records, the plaintiff would be unable to demonstrate that the doctors should have been aware of the shooters’ alleged addiction to the prescribed painkillers. The lawsuit will still move forward against a third doctor who did not raise the patient privacy defense.

The judge expressed his frustration with the need to throw this case out, opining that this was an “unintended consequence of the statute,” and that “a modification of the law by the legislature to address these draconian consequences is in order.”

If one of your loved ones has recently been a victim of an accident, contact a Chicago wrongful death lawyer today. Our firm can help represent your loved one’s rights and help you find the closure that you deserve.