Indiana Supreme Court Recognizes Claim for Public Disclosure of Private Facts
We previously wrote about a decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals regarding a hospital employee’s unauthorized access of patient records in Community Health Network, Inc. v. McKenzie here. However, the Indiana Supreme Court later granted transfer in McKenzie, thus vacating the Court of Appeals’ decision.
The disclosing employee, Katrina Gray, was previously employed by an orthopedic group along with one of the eventual plaintiffs, Heather McKenzie. Heather was supervised by Katrina, who was the group’s medical records coordinator. Katrina also introduced Heather to her stepson and Heather and Katrina’s stepson would marry and have children. Later, Heather and Katrina’s stepson divorced, and Heather received custody. Heather then married Daniel McKenzie. The Grays and McKenzies did not get along. Later, after the orthopedic group was acquired by Community, despite agreeing to restricted access to orthopedic records only, Katrina used her access to Epic to access her records and those of other patients, including Heather’s family and relatives. Heather McKenzie, her husband, her children, her parents, and her father-in-law all brought claims against Katrina’s employer, Community, based upon Katrina’s actions.
In its opinion, departing from the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that Indiana does recognize a tort claim for the public disclosure of private facts, paraphrasing a popular comic-book refrain: “with great access comes great responsibility—an abuse of which may give rise to liability.” The Court also reiterated that the situation was not governed by Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act. Further, the Court found that the patients’ negligence claims could not survive, because, although their “distress is understandable,” no negligence claim for emotional distress may be maintained in Indiana where there is no physical impact or where the claimant does not contemporaneously “perceive any physical injury to a loved one.”