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Medical malpractice and the disclosure of HIV status

Illinois residents who are concerned about how their medical information is handled may be interested in a New Jersey lawsuit regarding a physician's unauthorized disclosure of a patient's HIV diagnosis. The plaintiff was being treated by a nephrologist who disclosed the patient's health and HIV-positive status in front of a third party during an emergency consultation in the private hospital room occupied by the patient.

The plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the physician's disclosure was in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. However, the HIPPA does not allow for a private right of action. The complaint was then amended to allege that the disclosure was a form of medical malpractice, that the AIDS Assistance Act had been violated and that the release of the sensitive information to the public had been damaging and qualified as a common law invasion of privacy.

Both the physician and the hospital petitioned to have the plaintiff's complaint thrown out on the basis that the one-year statute of limitation for defamation claims applied to the case. The defendants alleged that there were similarities between the claim of the invasion of privacy and claims pertaining to plaintiffs who were misrepresented in the public eye and defamed. The court determined that it was the two-year statute of limitations for claims related to personal injury that was applicable to the claim. The court also found in favor of the plaintiff for all three counts.

As this case shows, medical professional negligence can take many forms. Plaintiffs and their attorneys will still need to demonstrate that they were harmed by the doctor and that it was a result of a failure to exhibit the requisite standard of care.

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