Can You Sue For Public Disclosure Of Private Medical Information?

Public disclosure of private medical information can have a profoundly negative impact on the victim's life. For instance, a survey by the Occupational and Environmental Medicine found 1 in 5 participants had been fired from their jobs and 1 in 10 didn't have their employment contracts renewed after their diseases were discovered. However, suing someone for revealing private medical information may not be simple. Here's what you need to know about this issue.

HIPPA Violations

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) prohibit covered parties from revealing medical information about patients to unauthorized persons. This includes taking appropriate steps to safeguard the information from unlawful access such as installing a firewall on a server to prevent data breaches.

The problem with HIPPA, however, is it doesn't cover private parties. Only medical practitioners, healthcare companies, and third-party vendors doing business with them are covered under this law. Additionally, only the government is authorized to sue violators using HIPPA. The law does not have provisions that private citizens can use to sue a company, healthcare provider, or individual for revealing medical data to someone who was not authorized to know the information.

Breach of Privacy

However, you may have success suing someone for invasion of privacy if he or she shares your medical status without your permission. Specifically, you could hold the person liable under the "Public Disclosure of Private Facts" portion of privacy laws. Under this tort, you would need to prove four elements to prevail in court:

The person must have publicly disclosed the information, and there must be a reasonable expectation that a large number of people will learn about it. Publishing medical information on social media or putting up posters on a college campus would satisfy this requirement. However, one person privately emailing another person the information would not if both individuals understood the information wasn't to go any further than that particular conversation.

The information disclosed must have been private and not generally known, essentially an intimate detail that few people know. Information that's already widely known doesn't qualify even if you didn't realize your medical information was in the public sphere.

A reasonable person would be offended by the publication of the private information. It's not enough for you to be upset about the sharing of your medical data. The incident must be offensive based on the sensibilities of a reasonable person in the same situation.

The information disclosed was not a matter of legitimate public concern. It is up to you to show that there was no need for the public to know about your medical condition. Sometimes a case can be made for public disclosure of private health facts, though. For instance, if you are suffering from a dangerous and highly contagious disease, then the defendant may be able to defend his or her actions on the basis of public safety.

If you're able to prove all the requisite elements, then you may be able to collect compensation for any economic losses (e.g. lost wages), pain and suffering, and possibly even infliction of emotional distress. To maximize your chances of success, you should work with a personal injury attorney to develop the best strategy for litigating your case.