Pulling Out Your Hair Over Wrongfully Disclosed Records?

A recent Massachusetts case shows that even prisoners have a right to privacy in their medical records. In this case, Alexander v. Clark, Suffolk Superior Court, Civil Action No. 0905456-H 28 Mass. L. Rptr. No. 14, 291 (May 30, 2011), the court sided with the claim of a prisoner that her health information had been wrongfully disclosed. In particular, the prisoner, Christine Alexander, sued several correction officials because those officials had sent documents regarding her “request for Propecia for hair loss” to another inmate without her permission.   

The court found that the inmate-patient had a claim under the Massachusetts Privacy Statute, Mass. Gen L. ch. 214, § 1(b), and held that her claim was “arguably substantial and serious.” This holding came was even though “the release of information was not extensive and may have been done without malice.” The Court also held that although the inmate-plaintiff had no claim for damages, the inmate-plaintiff could sue for injunctive relief (however, since the harm has already been done, and the hair lost, it is unclear just what that injunctive relief would be).

Curiously, given the nature of the claim, the inmate-plaintiff sued in her own name (not an alias) and the decision was apparently issued without any consideration of redacting her name, thereby compounding her original concern about her loss of privacy.

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