State Circuit Court of Appeals Considers Privacy Lawsuit Against Anderson Hospital | news

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals is considering a privacy lawsuit originally filed in 2020 by an Alexandrian woman against Community Hospital Anderson.

The case dates back to 2019, when a reporter from Fox 59 (WXIN-TV) received a tip that some of the hospital’s medical records could be viewed by the public, in a potential privacy violation.

The reporter used publicly available sources, including a ham radio and translation software, to connect to the hospital’s pager system. The system informed physicians of changes in the daily schedule and included patients’ names, ages, and medical procedures to be performed, among other information.

The reporter intercepted 354 patients’ names, according to court documents. The reporter contacted one of the patients, Brittany Rubendall of Alexandria, and shared some of Rubendall’s personal information. Rubendall declined an interview with the reporter, who later left Fox 59. The story never aired.

Since then, the Community Hospital has reportedly upgraded its system to use encrypted messaging devices.

However, Rubendall sued the hospital for negligence, trespassing and public disclosure of private facts, a lawsuit recently recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court as an invasion of privacy.

The hospital is fighting the lawsuit, saying in part that Rubendall’s damage was purely emotional in nature and did not meet the court’s definition of negligence.

Also, the hospital claims that the information was only released to one person – the reporter – and not to the “public”. Disclosing such information to a small group of people is not a criminal offense, the hospital’s lawyers claim.

But Rubendall is different.

“How many people does it take for a person’s private information to become public and constitute an invasion of privacy?” she asked in an interview with The Herald Bulletin. “In my eyes, one person receiving my personal health information is one person too many.”

The lawsuit was filed in Madison County in June 2020.

Last September, Judge Mark Dudley of Madison Circuit Court 6 issued summary judgment against Rubendall in favor of Community Hospital, ruling that a claim for intrusion must involve direct physical impact or injury in order to meet the “rule of impact.”

He also ruled that there was “no evidence that the public knew Rubendall’s private information or that the public was assured of knowing Rubendall’s private information”.

Rubendall’s attorney, Neal F. Eggeson of Fishers, appealed Dudley’s decision. The Indiana Court of Appeals heard the case Thursday; a decision will come later.

In a legal brief, Eggeson wrote, “In practical terms, medical privacy in Indiana is now on the brink of extinction.”

One of the appellate judges hearing the appeal, Judge Robert R. Altice Jr., asked whether the ruling in favor of Rubendall’s appeal would “open the floodgates” for similar privacy rights cases.

“In any case,” replied Jenny Buchheit, an attorney for the hospital, “if we keep dealing with exceptions and exceptions and exceptions, at what point do we slide down the hill completely.”

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