No Private Right of Action under HIPAA, but State Law Claims May Still be Asserted

A federal district court in Montana has confirmed that HIPAA precludes a private right of action for patients to claim an unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of protected health information.  Nonetheless, the court denied the defendant covered entity’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that the plaintiff could move forward with state-specific claims of invasion of privacy, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Montana’s Consumer Protection Act because the federal law does not bar the suit under state law. The court held that, although HIPAA does not allow private lawsuits to be brought for unauthorized disclosure of health information, it does not preempt state law remedies that offer stronger protections than HIPAA.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was taken to Madison Valley Medical Center (MVMC) unresponsive after ingesting drugs and alcohol before driving her car. A nurse at the medical center provided the plaintiff’s blood alcohol test results and medical records to the police without her consent or a subpoena. The plaintiff sued MVMC alleging violation of HIPAA and other claims, including negligence, invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

In addition to allowing the plaintiff to move forward with those claims, the court held that the Montana Health Care Information Act does not provide an exclusive cause of action for an unauthorized disclosure of health information and does not include exclusivity language to preclude the other claims.

This case illustrates, as in similar cases in other states, that even though HIPAA precludes a private right of action, covered entities may still be sued under state law claims for an alleged unauthorized disclosure of protected health information.