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New York Court Discusses Medical Malpractice Arising Out of a Breach of Patient-Doctor Confidentiality

Not all medical malpractice cases arise out of bodily harm; rather, in some instances, a medical malpractice case will arise out of the alleged breach of patient-doctor confidentiality. Regardless of the harm alleged, however, it is critical for the plaintiff to prove he or she suffered actual damages. This was explained in a recent primary care malpractice case in which the court found that a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether the defendant harmed the plaintiff, precluding dismissal via summary judgment. If you sustained damages due to a negligent primary care physician, it is wise to speak with a skillful Syracuse primary care malpractice attorney to discuss your potential damages.

Factual Background

It is reported that the plaintiff, who worked as a schoolteacher, began suffering from respiratory issues while at work. She attempted numerous treatments, but her symptoms persisted. Approximately a year later, the superintendent of the school district that employed the plaintiff asked the defendant primary care physician to examine the plaintiff pursuant to Education Law 913 to determine if the plaintiff was able to perform her job duties. The defendant examined the plaintiff and then sent a report of his findings to the superintendent.

Allegedly, the defendant annexed medical records from other providers that he received from the plaintiff to the report. The plaintiff then filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant, alleging he violated patient-doctor confidentiality by disclosing the records she provided to him. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The defendant then appealed.

Liability for Breach of Patient-Doctor Relationship

Under CPLR 4504(a), physicians are barred from disclosing information obtained from treating a patient in a professional capacity, that was necessary for the physician to treat the patient unless the patient waives the right to confidentiality. Further, a physician that violates a patient’s right to confidentiality may be held liable for harm caused by the breach.

If a patient pursues a claim for breach of patient-doctor confidentiality, he or she must show: a doctor-patient relationship existed; the physician acquired information that related to the patient’s treatment or diagnosis; and the physician disclosed the information to a party not connected to the patient’s treatment, in a way that disclosed the identity of the patient. The patient must also show that he or she did not consent to the disclosure and that the disclosure caused him or her to suffer damages.

In the subject case, the court was not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that he did not have a patient-doctor relationship with the plaintiff. Instead, the court found that a patient-doctor relationship exists whenever a doctor renders professional services for the purpose of medical treatment. When an evaluation is conducted solely for a third-party, however, there is only a limited patient-doctor relationship that requires the doctor not to cause the patient physical harm. Here, the defendant was the plaintiff’s primary care physician, and she expressed concerns regarding a conflict of interest prior to the examination. Further, the defendant advised the plaintiff he would help her seek a resolution to her issues. Thus, the court found that the defendant failed to establish that he was solely examining her for a third-party evaluation, and affirmed the denial of his motion.

Discuss Your Case with a Diligent Medical Malpractice Attorney

If your primary care physician acted negligently, causing you to suffer harm, you should meet with a  diligent Syracuse primary care malpractice attorney regarding what claims you may be able to assert to recover damages. The knowledgeable attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers have the skills and experience to help you pursue the most favorable outcome possible in your case. You can reach us at 315-479-9000 or via the online form to schedule a meeting.

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