A Missouri federal district court has ruled, in I.S. v. Washington University, that a HIPAA-covered entity’s disclosure of protected information can form the basis for a state-law negligence claim.  The Court reached this holding despite the well-accepted principle there is no private cause of action under HIPAA. 

The plaintiff, I.S., was undergoing medical treatment for colon cancer at Washington University.  I.S. gave Washington University a limited authorization to disclose only the dates of her treatments in order to satisfy her employer’s medical leave requirements.  Notwithstanding this limited authorization, plaintiff asserts that Washington University also sent her employer additional medical records and information that far exceeded her authorization. These included I.S.’s HIV status, mental health issues, and insomnia treatments.  Based on that disclosure, I.S. sued Washington University for negligence per se based on a violation of HIPAA. 

Procedurally, Washington University removed the state court action to federal court and sought dismissal of the negligence per se claim, arguing that HIPAA does not create a private cause of action. 

The district court, disagreeing with Washington University, held the plaintiff’s claim could stand despite its exclusive reliance on HIPAA.   The court held that a federal statute that does not provide for a private right of action nevertheless may be a legitimate element of a state law negligence per se claim. 

Under Missouri law, among other things, the plaintiff must show:

·         a violation of a statute or ordinance occurred,

·         the plaintiff was a member of the class of people intended to be protected,

·         the injury complained of was of the type intended to protect against, and

·         the violation was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.  

The Court found that I.S. had met all of the required elements of her claim and remanded the case back to state court. It held that I.S.’s claim, although premised on HIPAA, did not raise a federal question as it did not raise any compelling federal interests or present a substantial federal question.  

This case illustrates the need for HIPAA covered entities to provide training and institute policies and procedures regarding HIPAA compliance.  Here, a process for responding to requests for information would have highlighted the importance of carefully adhering to the limits of the authorization and prevented this alleged unauthorized disclosure, thus precluding I.S.’s claims.  Additionally, employers, and their counsel, must be aware that common law claims may support litigation based on HIPAA, despite the fact HIPAA itself does not provide for a private cause of action. 

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Photo of Jason C. Gavejian Jason C. Gavejian

Jason C. Gavejian is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and co-leader of the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group. Jason is also a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy…

Jason C. Gavejian is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and co-leader of the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group. Jason is also a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Jason focuses on the matrix of laws governing privacy, security, and management of data. Jason is co-editor of, and a regular contributor to, the firm’s Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report blog.

Jason’s work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling international, national, and regional companies on the vast array of privacy and security mandates, preventive measures, policies, procedures, and best practices. This includes, but is not limited to, the privacy and security requirements under state, federal, and international law (e.g., HIPAA/HITECH, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), FTC Act, ECPA, SCA, GLBA etc.). Jason helps companies in all industries to assess information risk and security as part of the development and implementation of comprehensive data security safeguards including written information security programs (WISP). Additionally, Jason assists companies in analyzing issues related to: electronic communications, social media, electronic signatures (ESIGN/UETA), monitoring and recording (GPS, video, audio, etc.), biometrics, and bring your own device (BYOD) and company owned personally enabled device (COPE) programs, including policies and procedures to address same. He regularly advises clients on compliance issues under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and has represented clients in suits, including class actions, brought in various jurisdictions throughout the country under the TCPA.

Jason represents companies with respect to inquiries from the HHS/OCR, state attorneys general, and other agencies alleging wrongful disclosure of personal/protected information. He negotiates vendor agreements and other data privacy and security agreements, including business associate agreements. His work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling and coaching clients through the process of investigating and responding to breaches of the personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI) they maintain about consumers, customers, employees, patients, and others, while also assisting clients in implementing policies, practices, and procedures to prevent future data incidents.

Jason represents management exclusively in all aspects of employment litigation, including restrictive covenants, class-actions, harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and wage and hour claims in both federal and state courts. He regularly appears before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the New Jersey Department of Labor. Jason’s practice also focuses on advising/counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues.

Jason’s litigation experience, coupled with his privacy practice, provides him with a unique view of many workplace issues and the impact privacy, data security, and social media may play in actual or threatened lawsuits.

Jason regularly provides training to both executives and employees and regularly speaks on current privacy, data security, monitoring, recording, BYOD/COPE, biometrics (BIPA), social media, TCPA, and information management issues. His views on these topics have been discussed in multiple publications, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGATE), National Law Review, Bloomberg BNA, Inc.com, @Law Magazine, Risk and Insurance Magazine, LXBN TV, Business Insurance Magazine, and HR.BLR.com.

Jason is the co-leader of Jackson Lewis’ Hispanic Attorney resource group, a group committed to increasing the firm’s visibility among Hispanic-American and other minority attorneys, as well as mentoring the firm’s attorneys to assist in their training and development. He also previously served on the National Leadership Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and regularly volunteers his time for pro bono matters.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Jason served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard J. Donohue on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County.