In October, 1998, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a $100,000 verdict against Fairfax Hospital in a case which involved the hospital’s unauthorized disclosure of a patient’s medical record to third parties.
A mother gave birth at the hospital. The child later suffered a heart attack and died. The mother sued the hospital for the wrongful death of her infant. During the course of that litigation, the hospital provided copies of the mother's records to a hospital attorney and a defendant nurse even though the mother's records were not relevant to the litigation regarding the child's death. Those records contained very personal information about her medical history before and after her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court held that a health care provider is obligated to preserve the confidentiality of information about a patient which was communicated to the health care provider during the course of treatment. The Court said that confidentiality is an integral aspect of the relationship between the health care provider and the patient. The court held that a hospital owes a duty to the patient not to disclose information gained during the course of treatment without the patient's permission and that violation of this duty gives rise to an action for money damages.
In this case, since the hospital's director of legal affairs had made a unilateral decision to give the mother's medical records to the hospital's attorney and a nurse without a court order, the hospital was liable to the patient for money damages. The court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages for her emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.