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TN Court of Appeals Revives Medical Malpractice Lawsuit


The federal law known as HIPAA protects the privacy and confidentiality of a patient’s medical records. In other words, your doctor cannot disclose any part of your medical record to another person without your consent. But if you later sue your doctor for medical malpractice, Tennessee law requires you sign a “HIPAA compliant medical authorization” permitting your doctor to disclose your medical records to any other health care provider you also plan to sue.

Appeals Court Finds Widower “Substantially” Complied with HIPAA Authorization Requirement

The HIPAA disclosure is not optional. It is a required part of the overall notice that every potential defendant in a medical malpractice case is entitled to receive under Tennessee law. If the plaintiff does not comply with these notice requirements, their lawsuit will be dismissed by a judge regardless of the merits.

In a recent decision, Short ex rel. Short v. Metro Knoxville HMA, LLC, the Tennessee Court of Appeals weighed in on what qualifies as “substantial” compliance with the law in this area. In this case, a Knoxville judgment dismissed a medical malpractice lawsuit because of a purported technical deficiency in the HIPAA authorization.

Here is some background on the case. The victim was a 29-year-old pregnant woman who died while under the care of the defendants. Her husband, the plaintiff, subsequently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. As required by Tennessee law, the husband sent notice to all of the relevant defendants before the relevant statutory deadline.

Unfortunately, the trial judge believed the notice did not include a proper HIPAA authorization and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Although the notice said each named provider could “use” or “disclose” the victim’s medical records to one another, there was nothing that explicitly stated a provider could “obtain” the records. To put it another way, the notice did not expressly state that one defendant was allowed to ask another defendant for copies of the victim’s medical records.

The trial court believed this qualified as the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the law. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The appeals court noted that “not every failure to comply perfectly with that statute is fatal to a healthcare liability plaintiff’s case.” Instead, the “degree of noncompliance” needed to be taken into consideration. Here, the plaintiff’s notice “can and did serve to inform Defendants that all other listed medical providers had received a similar HIPAA-compliant authorization so as to allow each listed medical provider to obtain complete medical records from every other provider.” The plaintiff was not required to use any particular form or wording so long as the meaning was clear.

Speak with a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer Today

In medical malpractice cases, defendants will make every effort to defeat a claim before it even gets in front of a jury. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury legal team today.




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