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    A HIPAA violation, a $1.8 million verdict, and three takeaways

    Ken BakerKen BakerThe second tenet of the APhA Code of Ethics states, “A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient in a caring, compassionate, and confidential manner.” It sounds easy. It evokes an immediate response from each pharmacist and pharmacy technician: “I wouldn’t violate that, no matter what.”

    But a pharmacist in Indiana admitted that that’s what she did, when she obtained access to a patient’s confidential information. The records the pharmacist opened were those of the former girlfriend of the pharmacist’s husband. The former girlfriend had a child. She claimed that the pharmacist’s husband was the father. and she was demanding that he pay child support. The pharmacist denied that she gave her husband the patient records, but apparently he knew their contents, as evidenced by e-mails he sent to the former girlfriend.1

    The former girlfriend sued the pharmacist and the pharmacy chain. After a jury trial, a verdict for the former girlfriend was entered for $1.8 million. The jury found that the pharmacy chain and the pharmacist were jointly responsible for 80% of the verdict, and the pharmacist’s husband was responsible for the remaining 20%.

    See also: The ethical virtues of loyalty and trustworthiness in pharmacy

    Lawsuit and verdict

    The pharmacy chain appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, saying that it should not be held responsible. The pharmacy’s argument amounted to a demand that the pharmacist alone should be responsible for $1.44 million.

    Normally, a company is responsible for the acts of its employees under the legal doctrine of “Respondeat superior” (“Let the master answer”), meaning that the master is responsible for injuries caused by the servant. There are exceptions, however, and these were the basis of the pharmacy chain’s appeal. The pharmacist, the pharmacy argued, was doing something she was forbidden to do by law and company rules.1

    The Court of Appeals did not agree with the pharmacy’s argument and upheld the lower court verdict against both the pharmacist and the pharmacy jointly.1 The pharmacy can appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court to reverse this judgment, and we may see a new final chapter.

    See also: Professional liability insurance: A short primer

    Kenneth R. Baker, BS Pharm, JD
    These articles are not intended as legal advice and should not be used as such. When a legal question arises, the pharmacist should ...

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    • BethEssex
      What a terrible ruling. These chains spend millions of dollars every year making sure everyone who works in a pharmacy is HIPAA trained and certified; Walgreens surely proved during the trial that this woman was no exception and *knew better* than to violate the law. Hopefully a higher court will consider the evidence and punish the person responsible, and not the employer - whose only mistake was hiring a careless employee who apparently knew she could violate HIPAA without consequence. I also question whether a malpractice policy would cover such an intentional violation of the law.