Saturday, April 7, 2012

Health Data Breaches Offer New Vein for Plaintiffs Lawyers to Tap

SAN FRANCISCO — In January, Deanna DeBaeke plugged her name into Google — and was shocked at what she found.

Right there online were three reports containing the Sonoma County resident's confidential medical information relating to her treatment at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital a year earlier. Her height and weight, smoking history, blood pressure and patient account number and treatment dates were available for friends, neighbors, even potential employers, to see.

DeBaeke decided to take legal action — in a way that puts her at the vanguard of a new strain of litigation. She's a name plaintiff in a proposed class action against the hospital system for violating California's strict medical information privacy laws. Her attorneys, San Francisco plaintiffs shop Keller Grover, filed the complaint in Sonoma County Superior Court a week ago.

The potentially multimillion-dollar case is the latest in a flurry of privacy data breach actions targeting hospitals, medical services providers and at least one health insurance company across California. Recent pro-business court decisions have made certain consumer class actions less attractive, and plaintiffs lawyers are on the lookout for other lines of business. The combination of a state-law specified damages figure of $1,000 per person per violation and the massive scale of potential breaches has plaintiffs lawyers salivating and potential defendants bracing for a fierce fight.

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