Court to look at nurse's confidentiality breach

This is a file photo of the New

This is a file photo of the New York Court of Appeals. (Credit: Court of Appeal's website)

ALBANY -- He went to a private medical clinic to receive treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. But when the man, known in court papers only as "John Doe," arrived, a nurse recognized him and texted Doe's girlfriend.

Uh, oh.

While he was still in the waiting room, the girlfriend forwarded the text message to John Doe. The nurse, as it happens, is the girlfriend's sister-in-law.


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Now the anonymous man is suing the Guthrie Clinic in Corning for privacy violations in a lawsuit that New York's top court will hear Tuesday.

The nurse also went through John Doe's medical files and texted the information to his girlfriend. The legal issue is whether Guthrie, which operates health care facilities throughout New York's Southern Tier, can be held liable for the nurse's actions, which occurred in 2010.

John Doe filed the lawsuit in a lower federal court, which dismissed the case. But it's now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which has turned to the New York Court of Appeals to ask if under state law a medical corporation can be held liable for confidentiality breaches committed by an employee who isn't a physician and has acted outside of his/her scope of employment.

According to court documents, Guthrie officials wrote John Doe confirming his confidential information had been disclosed and the nurse fired.

In court documents, Guthrie has argued it can't be held liable because the nurse acted outside of her duties. The man's lawyers contend that if the clinic isn't held responsible, it "leaves New Yorkers vulnerable to technology-enabled breaches because medical corporations will have little incentive to control them otherwise."

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