Massachusetts Court Holds Disclosure of Patient Records Does Not Violate HIPAA or State Consumer Statute

In Mercier v. Courtyard Nursing Care Center, 2009 WL 1873746 (Mass. Super. Ct. Jun. 11, 2009), a resident of a nursing home sued the home in Massachusetts Superior Court for negligence after being assaulted by another resident. The injured resident moved to obtain medical records maintained by the home regarding the resident who had allegedly committed the assault. The home contended that disclosure of the records would violate both HIPAA’s prohibition on disclosure of medical records without a patient’s authorization and Mass. Gen. L. ch. 93A, the Massachusetts unfair and deceptive practices statute.

The court, however, held HIPAA permitted disclosure of medical records “in the course of a judicial proceeding,” including in response to a court order, subpoena or discovery request. The court further observed that, although a Massachusetts regulation states that unauthorized release of a patient’s personal or medical record violates ch. 93A, the regulation contains a specific exception for disclosures “required by law.” The court held that disclosure pursuant to a court order requiring production of records constituted such a disclosure. The court also held that the sought-after records were likely to lead to admissible evidence regarding defendant’s knowledge of the alleged propensity for violence of the resident who had committed the assault and therefore ordered production of the records. [Thanks to Foley Hoag’s Eric Haskell for this entry.]

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