Employer and Clinic Liable after HIV Results Sent by Fax

October 22, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Florida has decided an employer and medical clinic can be held liable for emotional distress for improperly disclosing HIV test results of an employee.

The Supreme Court upheld an appeals court finding that an entity that negligently violates a patient’s confidentiality and privacy rights by disclosing HIV test results may be held responsible in a civil action, according to Business Insurance. The high court ruled a state law that limits civil lawsuits for emotional distress to cases where someone suffered physical injuries caused by an impact does not apply.

Correctional facility nurse Lisa M. Abril sought testing after giving an inmate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Business Insurance reported. The institution’s chief medical officer submitted a blood sample for Abril to a clinic that provided testing for inmates, and the clinic sent the test results to two Department of Correction fax machines where unauthorized employees viewed the transmissions.

The test results were ultimately found to be a false positive, but Abril sought civil damages for emotional distress related to the clinic’s failure to assure her confidentiality and privacy. A trial court dismissed the case, but an appeals court reversed and reinstated Abril’s lawsuit, according to the news report.

The dissenters to the opinion argued that the majority was expanding Florida law beyond legislators’ intent.

The opinion is here .