Medical disclosure suit upheld
MADISON - A state appeals court has upheld a $26,000 judgment against a Fort Atkinson woman who unlawfully obtained medical records of another woman and disclosed that she had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease.
In upholding a ruling by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Jacqueline Erwin, the District 4 Court of Appeals concluded that state statutes prohibiting the release of confidential medical records apply to "any person" not just healthcare professionals and records custodians.
Shauna Lueder, 32, forged the name of a Montello woman with whom she had been romantically involved on a medical release form, said the woman's attorney, Dixon Gahnz. Lueder reportedly submitted the form to an unspecified women's health clinic, and received the woman's records which she disclosed to several people in Fort Atkinson, all without the Montello woman's consent.
Lueder was charged in Jefferson County Circuit Court with felony misappropriating identification information with the intent to harm another's reputation and misdemeanor requesting patient records under false pretenses.
The district attorney dropped the felony charge; Lueder pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to 14 days in jail in January 2010. The Montello woman filed a civil suit against Lueder, claiming she was entitled to damages under a state law regulating access to confidential medical records. Lueder didn't contest that she forged the woman's name on the records' request, but argued that the law didn't apply to her, just healthcare professionals and custodians of healthcare records.
Lueder's attorney, Vicki Zick, contended that the law is ambiguous and could be interpreted that those whose records were disclosed could only obtain damages from record custodians.
After a trial, Erwin found Lueder liable to the Montello woman for $14,000 in damages, including $5,000 in punitive damages and attorney fees of $12,000.
In appealing the damages award, Zick argued that since the statute regulates what records healthcare professionals must keep and under what circumstances they can disclose them the "any person" language in the statue applies to "any healthcare professional."
The District 4 Court of Appeals disagreed. It did not find that the statute was ambiguous and, although the statute sets out obligations for healthcare providers, it does not limit confidentialy requirements just to them, but on "any person."
"(T)here would appear to be no discernable difference in the harm done to the patient whose information is disclosed based upon who released it," according to the unsigned five-page opinion.
Zick did not return a call seeking comment before deadline.
Gahnz said he was pleased with the opinion, calling it "dead on" and saying that he would be returning to court to petition for additional attorney fees incurred in defending the verdict in the case.