People have long expected that their medical information will be treated as private. HIPAA and various state privacy laws protect patients from unauthorized disclosure of health information.
For a male, a medical condition that arguably could cause the most embarrassment if disclosed is erectile dysfunction.
Two weeks ago, a decision rendered by the Arizona Supreme Court illustrated a wrongful disclosure of ED, the resulting harm, and the potential liability of the wrongdoer, Costco.
In the lawsuit seeking monetary damages against Costco, the plaintiff stated that Costco wrongfully filled an ED prescription that he didn’t want or need. He twice told Costco to cancel the medication. The following month, he called Costco to ask if his ex-wife, with whom he was trying to reconcile, could pick up his regular medication, and the employee said she could and that it was ready. The employee did not mention that the ED medication was still available for pickup. When the ex-wife went to Costco, the employee gave her the plaintiff’s regular prescription plus the ED medication, and the ex-wife and employee joked about the ED medication. Upon returning to the plaintiff, the ex-wife told him that she knew about the ED medication and she no longer wanted to be with him, ending the reconciliation effort. The ex-wife later told the plaintiff’s children and friends about the ED medication. The plaintiff stated he would never have sent his ex-wife to pick up his medication if he knew that Costco did not cancel the ED prescription.
The plaintiff complained to Costco headquarters about the ED prescription’s disclosure and received a response acknowledging that Costco violated HIPAA.
The lower court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that Costco had immunity under Arizona law that applies when a medical disclosure was made in good faith. HIPAA precluded any claims because HIPAA does not permit a private right of action.
The Arizona Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and found that the plaintiff does not have to allege the disclosure was in bad faith and that HIPAA does not bar state law tort claims. The Court found that HIPAA can be used to establish the standard of care.
You can view or download the court’s decision by clicking here: COURT OPINION
In this case, it was a series of unfortunate events and mishaps that resulted in the plaintiff’s private medical information’s wrongful disclosure, which was the proximate cause of the breakdown of his marital reconciliation efforts. The case shows that all businesses that handle confidential information, whether small or large, like Costco, must make sure that they follow best practices. One slipup can result in fines for violations of HIPAA and state privacy laws, as well as a civil action by the person whose privacy rights were violated.