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Nidel & Nace have earned an appellate victory from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in a case of wrongful disclosure of protected health information.  The DC Court of Appeals vacated and remanded a previously dismissed case involving a patient seeking psychological treatment from MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital through her workers’ compensation insurer.

Dr. Jessica Velcoff, Ph.D. was in a serious and life threatening car accident while working abroad.  She was emergently transported home to the Washington, DC region and to Washington Hospital for significant orthopedic surgery and rehabilitative treatment.  Due to the nature of the accident, she sought psychological treatment during her rehab process.  During her psychological treatment, Dr. Velcoff became aware that her most sensitive psychological medical records, including personal notes she had shared in strictest confidence with her psychologist, were being shared with her workers’ compensation carrier.  She filed a Complaint for violation of her privacy, breach of the duty of confidentiality and violation of the DC Consumer Protection Act on August 30, 2016.

In a series of orders, the Superior Court dismissed her claim for failing to state a claim, finding that Dr. Velcoff’s records were lawfully shared with her workers’ compensation carrier, and that, among other reasons for dismissal, she had consented to the disclosure by engaging her workers’ compensation carrier to make payment.

The DC Court of Appeals vacated the trial judge’s Order and reversed.  Dr. Velcoff still must overcome some final hurdles to gain full justice for these disclosures.  But the Court of Appeals denied the most significant defenses raised at the lower court level by the Defendant, and accepted by the trial court.

Further, from a precedential standpoint, the Court of Appeals affirmed that violations of healthcare privacy policies are enforceable under the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act.  “[T]he complaint clearly and specifically identifies several trade practices that the complaint alleges are illegal, including failing to provide the promised benefit of confidentiality, misrepresenting the degree of confidentiality provided, and failing to state material facts about the lack of confidentiality.”  This important finding holds healthcare providers to the same standards as other merchants engaged in consumer transactions.