Indiana Court of Appeals Reinstates Respondeat Superior Claim in HIPAA Breach Lawsuit

The Indiana Court of Appeals reinstated the respondeat superior claim of a patient who sued Parkview Health System Inc. after a medical assistant accessed her medical records and shared the sensitive information with another individual.

Haley SoderVick filed legal action against the Parkview Health System after she was informed that a medical assistant had accessed her medical information and gave the data to her then-husband. The medical assistant’s husband posted a picture on Facebook that SoderVick liked.

SoderVick visited Parkview Health in October 2017 and went through a medical exam in the OB/GYN department. While she was there, the medical assistant, Alexi Christian accessed her medical records.

Christian sent a text to her husband details about SoderVick, saying she was a patient at the medical facility, shared a potential diagnosis, and shared with her husband that SoderVick was a dispatcher. She additionally said to her husband that SoderVick was HIV-positive and had had about 50 sexual partners, even though both statements were false and that information was not taken from her medical document. Christian stated she was concerned her husband may have known Sodervick when she had liked his posting, and wished to know whether her husband, Caleb Thomas, had had a sexual connection with SoderVick.

The SMS were later read by Thomas’ sister who borrowed Thomas’ mobile phone. She notified Parkview Health about the HIPAA violation and forwarded the SMS, which an investigation that resulted in the dismissal of Christian for the HIPAA violation.

After being informed regarding the HIPAA breach, SoderVick filed a case claiming Parkview health was vicariously responsible for the actions of Christian, that the healthcare organization was negligent for not providing proper training and oversight, and alleged Parkview Health violated its statutory and common-law responsibilities of data protection and privacy as mandated by HIPAA.

Parkview Health asked summary judgment on the statements, which were eventually granted. The trial court determined that Christian’s texts to a third party, whether they comprised truthful data or untrue data about SoderVick, obviously fell beyond the extent of her work with Parkview and, so, Parkview is not vicariously responsible for these acts.

SoderVick appealed the respondeat superior claim and got a majority decision of reversal in the Court of Appeals. In its motion for summary judgment, Parkview asserted there was no real issue of material fact regarding whether Christian was performing in the range of her employment. The COA found that there is a real issue of fact on the range of employment concern; particularly, there is a subject of fact as to whether Christian’s behavior was incidental to accepted employment routines. Therefore, the trial court made a mistake in approving summary judgment favoring Parkview on the respondeat superior claim. That portion of the order was reversed, and there was a remand for further proceedings.