Spin Cycle

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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 of her “scope of duties.”

The man, known 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.

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“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 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 Corning clinic to receive treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. When he arrived, the nurse recognized him and texted Doe's girlfriend -- who happened to be the nurse’s sister-in-law.