Connecticut Supreme Court Finds Right to Medical Privacy

HARTFORD (CN) — In a unanimous reversal Thursday, the Connecticut Supreme Court said medical doctors have a duty to keep patients’ medical records confidential.

The 6-0 decision overturned a ruling that found physician-patient confidentiality an unrecognized area of law, and reinstated former New Canaan resident Emily Byrne’s complaint against the Avery Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology, in Westport.

The state supreme court found there is a common-law duty of confidentiality between physicians and their patients.

Justice Dennis Eveleigh wrote the 6-0 ruling before he retires. Its “officially released” date is Jan. 16 — next Tuesday, when it will be published in the Connecticut Law Journal.

Justice Richard Robinson wrote a concurrence, “only to emphasize my continuing reticence to recognize new causes of action under Connecticut’s common law.” He said it should be up to the Legislature to write the laws.

Bruce Elstein, Byrne’s attorney, said the ruling brings clarity to an issue some may have thought was settled law.

“Our client, and all patients, are now better served knowing that there is a remedy if a medical provider fails to keep private health information confidential,” Elstein said. “In this case, the provider failed to comply with the most rudimentary concerns for confidentiality.  It is heartening to know that Connecticut, among a growing number of states, permits a remedy for the harm caused in failing to protect our most private disclosures to our doctors.”

Byrne, now of Vermont, claimed her doctors sent her medical file to the New Haven Regional Children’s Probate Court on July 8, 2005. According to court records, the defendant Avery Center did not inform Byrne about the subpoena for her medical records or file a motion to quash it. It simply mailed a copy of her medical records to the court for a paternity case.

Byrne said the father of their child, Andro Mendoza, used the information for “harassment and extortion.” She said there was embarrassing information in the medical records that had no relevance to the pending paternity suit.

She sued Avery Center in 2007 for failing to protect her medical file and violating medical privacy laws. In 2015, after an appeal on two other parts of the complaint, Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Richard E. Arnold dismissed her claims.

“This court respectfully declines the invitation to establish a new cause of action which would have wide-ranging implications for the medical community, as well as, the patients it serves,” Arnold wrote.

“Common law privilege for communications made by a patient to a physician has never been recognized in this state,” Arnold said, citing Edelstein v. Department of Public Health and Addiction Services.

Avery Center attorney James Biondo could not be reached for comment after business hours Thursday.

He argued in court documents that mailing the records to the Probate Court, in response to a subpoena, complied with state and federal laws.

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