Woman cannot sue hospital after nurse discloses confidential records to nurse's boyfriend
Angela Ware sued Bronson Methodist Hospital after her ex-husband's girlfriend used her employee access to view, copy and disclose the content of her confidential medical records. Ware was involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband and argued that a breach of privacy occured when Patricia Wark [not a typo], her ex's girlfriend and an ICU nurse at Bronson, accessed her records for use in the custody dispute. Ware argued that Bronson's privacy policies were inadequate, in that they allowed an employee not involved in her care to access her records. She also argued that the Hospital should be liable for the misconduct of its employee.
The Hospital sought summary disposition of Ware's vicarious responsibility claim, arguing that it should not be responsible for an employee's violation of the law where that violation was not in the course of duty and not committed to further the Hospital's interests. The trial judge rejected this argument, but two of the three judges on the high court panel disagreed and granted summary disposition. The Hospital also sought summary disposition of Ware's privacy claims related to Bronson's access rules and procedures, arguing that a claim of this nature must be pursued as a medical malpractice action. The Court of Appeals agreed in part and ruled that since Ware did not follow the difficult procedural rules established for Michigan malpractice cases, some of her allegations were barred by the statute of limitations. The Court did leave open one narrow channel of recourse for Ware. It held that the failure to monitor and enforce its own rules regarding privacy does not sound in medical malpractice, and therefore, if Ware can prove that this failure caused her injury, she is entitled to a trial on that sole issue.
The dissenting judge rejected the idea that allowing a non-treating nurse to examine the victim's medical records raises an issue of professional judgment. She noted that by definition, no standards of medical care dictate the privacy rights of patients with respect to non-treating professionals and employees. This is a technical, legal, administrative issue that the majority improperly confounds with issues of professional medical judgment. The dissenting judge provides a detailed analysis of the historical medical privilege and explains why failing to protect private information from access by non-treating individuals should not be tolerated--let alone protected as a matter of "medical judgment."