Patient files privacy breach suit v. Torrance Memorial Medical Center

Author Name Patrick Ouellette   |   Date September 5, 2013   |   Tagged , , , , ,

A Torrance Memorial Medical Center patient is seeking damages against the organization for an alleged breach of patient privacy. Former Torrance employee Veronica Valdez filed a civil suit scheduled for January against Torrance because her anesthesiologist, Dr. Patrick Yang, adorned her face with stickers and a nurse’s aide, Patricia Gomez, took cellphone pictures back in 2011.

Valdez, according to the Los Angeles Times, was employed at Torrance for 13 years prior to the incident, ordering and maintaining operating room supplies, and it was while she was in minor finger surgery in 2011 that Yang put the stickers on her face.

Part of the dispute, is whether the nurse’s aide shared the photo on social media. The hospital claimed that there’s no evidence of the picture being published online and Gomez maintained that she had deleted the photo right after taking it, while some of those who testified in depositions that they saw the photo online. Regardless of whether the photo had been exposed to the public, the aide had violated Valdez’s medical privacy.

Valdez is no longer employed at the hospital and her attorney argued that she had to leave her job because she was “ridiculed and humiliated while under anesthesia.” How the court perceives the harm done by the photo will be interesting given how it’s currently unclear whether others actually saw it. Come trial time, if Valdez can prove that others saw the picture, then her argument that she suffered mental anguish because of the exposure becomes more sustainable. Otherwise, the court will have to determine what type of damages Valdez should receive based on the breach of her medical privacy.

The Times also reported that Torrance pronounced Valdez’s accusations to be “factually inaccurate, grossly exaggerated or fabricated” and motioned for court dismissal. Torrance went on to say that Valdez is seeking damages because, frankly, she can do so and the hospital has a lot of money at its disposal, not because of any sort of true distress caused by the incident.

Torrance Memorial officials told state regulators about the potential violation of medical privacy, but the Times reports that they “cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.” Yang was suspended for two weeks by the Torrance Anesthesia Medical Group, but kept his good standing at the hospital, and the hospital reports that the others involved were also disciplined but not fired. Torrance says it provided employees with additional patient privacy training after the breach occurred.

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