One Patient and One Lawyer Create a Remedy for Patients Harmed by Wrongful Disclosure After 12 years

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Connecticut Attorney Wins Wrongful Disclosure Case Again in State Supreme Court

“I am proud to share the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision that will now protect important patient rights to confidentiality and to permit a patient subjected to a wrongful disclosure to a remedy for the resulting harm,” said Elstein.

On January 11th, Bruce Elstein, a prominent Fairfield County Attorney, implemented a groundbreaking change in Connecticut law that protects patient’s privacy and their medical records. Until now, and since the HIPAA regulations were implemented over fifteen years ago, patients assumed their medical information would be held confidential each time they were asked for a required signature of HIPAA documents prior to a Doctors’ visit.

In 2005, Elstein and his firm, Goldman Gruder and Woods, were approached by plaintiff, Emily Byrne, a former New Canaan resident, with a significant case, Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C., 314 Conn. 433, that Elstein went on to fight for twelve years. Last Thursday, after numerous hearings and proceedings addressing the Trial, Appellate and State Supreme Courts, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff, and Elstein won the case. Elstein successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to permit a remedy in Connecticut for patients whose private health information is negligently revealed. The decision creates new state law and adds Connecticut to a mounting number of states that allow patients to sue for damages over the release of private records by their physicians.

According to court documents, Emily Byrne’s privacy was breached by the Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, previously located in Westport, CT, in 2005. As a result of Byrne’s private health information being exposed, she suffered severe emotional damage from a former boyfriend who used her most private information in a campaign against her and others close to her in a series of lawsuits and writings that were designed to embarrass and harass her.

Byrne, who subsequently moved to Vermont, was involved in a paternity case with a man seeking custody over her child. According to court documents, he subpoenaed her medical information from the Avery Center who didn’t challenge the subpoena or notify Byrne that it had been served. Avery Center then mailed the entirety of her medical records to a children’s and family court, where they were publicly available to the man seeking custody.

In a decision written by Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh, the court said privacy is at the center of the physician-patient relationship and without it, patients would be unwilling to be upfront about their conditions. The decision said liability for breaches of confidentiality is consistent with sound medical practice under both state and federal law.

Elstein fought for Byrne’s patient’s rights for over a decade to provide her with reasonable compensation, and with the intent of keeping all patients safe by creating a remedy for wrongful disclosure, making Doctors accountable and minimizing the wrong doings of negligently revealing personal and confidential health information.

Prior to Elstein’s fighting to hold Doctors and medical practices responsible for negligence and creating this new principle in the Supreme Court, the patient did not have any remedy to seek damages against a doctor’s office or medical practice for wrongful disclosure of private and confidential health information. This case allows damaged patients to sue any health care provider who violated their privacy rights, not only a medical practice.

“I am proud to share the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision that will now protect important patient rights to confidentiality and to permit a patient subjected to a wrongful disclosure to a remedy for the resulting harm,” said Elstein. Until now, patient’s privacy rights were never covered by the HIPAA laws – There was no remedy to the patient if the regulations weren’t followed.

Previous to this new case, many doctors spent insufficient time and effort educating their staff about the HIPAA laws. Typically, healthcare consultants were hired by medical practices to author a HIPAA handbook and provide employees with two or more hours of training. Medical practices were provided with a manual and forms for employees to sign verifying they reviewed the HIPAA manual. However, no one ever knew what would happen if they did not follow the guidelines.

Prior to this Supreme Court ruling, there was no patient remedy for the breach of confidentiality. Until now, it has been unclear to doctors, medical practitioners or patients what the existing HIPAA regulations truly implicated.

About Bruce Elstein
Attorney Bruce L. Elstein is a Member of the Goldman Gruder and Woods law firm. His practice focuses exclusively upon representing individuals and businesses in disputes requiring litigation. Attorney Elstein graduated from Hofstra University School of Law and earned his undergraduate degree from Skidmore College with a Bachelor of Science, concentrating in accounting. Bruce concentrates on significant personal injury cases and complex civil and commercial litigation. His personal injury practice concentrates in the areas of automobile collisions, property hazards and malpractice while his civil and commercial practice focuses on business, real estate and construction related disputes. Bruce practices in the Greenwich, Norwalk and Trumbull offices. He grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, attended Andrew Warde High School and now resides in Trumbull where he is an active member of Trumbull’s town council.

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