September 2012 Archives

Million Dollar Settlement Reached in Medical Privacy Violation Case: Patient Privacy Pivotal for Personal Injury Plaintiffs

September 13, 2012

Often, when a person finds themselves on the injured end of a car wreck, plaintiff' personal injury attorneys know that a significant part of the pre-litigation and/or settlement process is gaining access to the medical records of their clients. Medical records are important for several reasons. For one, they provide documentation of previous injuries, thereby allowing attorneys to more effectively identify pre-existing injuries versus injuries that were sustained as a direct result of the accident in question. This is particularly helpful when it comes to proving causation. Medical records also help determine whether a pre-existing condition may have been exacerbated by the car crash. When it comes to settlement, a doctor's record of the helps attorneys more accurately figure exactly how much money to request during settlement, or when it comes to litigation, how much money might be requested in terms of damages.

However, maintaining the medical privacy of plaintiffs is just as important as acquiring access to those records. In fact, medical providers may be held liable if such records are released without the voluntary consent of the patient. The primary way that medical providers circumvent liability is to require that anyone requesting a patient's records first acquire the patient's permission vis-à-vis a HIPAA form. "HIPAA" is an abbreviation for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a law whose primary purpose is to ensure the protection of all patients' right to medical privacy and to prevent unnecessary disclosures of medical information. In many cases, doctors, however, may still disclose a patient's PHI (Permissive Disclosure) without consent, especially if said information is related to treatment, payment or health care operations. The Act took effect in April of 2003, and while welcomed by most patients and consumer advocacy groups, many medical providers have found it to be a pain to conform to the new privacy standards that were implemented by the rule, even today - almost a decade later.

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