Man can't sue clinic over STD disclosure, says high court

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ALBANY -- New York's top court ruled Thursday that an upstate man cannot sue a health clinic for the actions of a nurse who told his girlfriend he was at the facility to receive treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.

In a 6-1 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the Guthrie Clinic in Corning can't be held liable for the confidentiality breach because the nurse acted outside her "scope of duties."

The man, identified in court papers only as John Doe, was dating the nurse's sister-in-law. Guthrie, which operates clinics throughout the Southern Tier, fired the nurse, according to court papers.

"Here, Doe urges us to impose absolute liability on the medical corporation for an employee's dissemination of a patient's confidential medical information. We decline to do so," Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote for the court. "A medical corporation is generally not liable for a tort of an employee when such an action is not within the scope of employment."

Judge Jenny Rivera dissented, saying that holding a medical corporation responsible for keeping information confidential "ensures the fullest protections for patients and best addresses the current realities of medical service delivery."

According to court documents, John Doe went to the clinic to receive treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. When he arrived, the nurse recognized him and texted Doe's girlfriend.

Doe filed the suit in a lower federal court, which dismissed the case. It is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The appeals court had turned to the New York Court of Appeals to ask if a medical corporation can be held liable for confidentiality breaches by an employee who has acted outside the scope of employment.

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