Punitive Damages Properly Awarded for Disclosing Medical Information

Plaintiff underwent an abortion at defendant’s facility. Plaintiff specifically told defendant not to contact her at home, as she knew that her parents would not approve of the procedure. Nevertheless, not only did defendant call plaintiff at home, but the nurse provided enough information to plaintiff’s mother so that her mother understood that plaintiff had undergone an abortion. Although the court did not find that defendant conducted itself in bad faith or that defendant’s conduct was intentional, it found that punitive damages were permitted, as neither bad faith nor intentional conduct was required for such a finding. So long as the conduct complained of was negligent or reckless and sufficiently blameworthy, and advances a strong public policy to deter future conduct, punitive damages may be awarded. In this case, the court found that defendant’s failure to have a formal, written plan to protect its patient’s privacy, particularly given the sensitive nature of the procedures, and the failure by the Center to be sufficiently organized to prevent the kind of disclosure complaint of, together with the careless disclosure by the nurse of private information to one she knew to be plaintiff’s mother was sufficient to allow punitive damages.

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