September 04, 2015 Practice Points

UCLA Not Responsible in Medical Data Breach Suit

The jury felt the blame lay with a physician affiliated with the school and a former employee who borrowed his credentials.

By Eric W. Shannon

On September 3, 2015, a California jury found in favor of the University of California, Los Angeles Health System, ending (for now) a much-publicized medical-privacy dispute.

In April 2013, plaintiff Norma Lozano filed suit against UCLA in California state court, alleging illegal disclosure of her confidential medical information and invasion of privacy. Lozano alleged that in September 2012, Alexis Price—a former office employee of Dr. John Edwards, a physician affiliated with UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine—accessed Lozano’s medical records using Dr. Edwards’s borrowed credentials. Price allegedly texted cell phone photos of Lozano’s private medical records to Lozano’s ex-boyfriend, Dedreck Harris, and others, and accused Lozano of having a sexually transmitted infection. Price and Harris and are now married.

Lozano testified at trial that the unauthorized disclosure by her ex-boyfriend’s new partner left her “stressed, crying, and depressed,” and argued that UCLA should have done more to prevent its medical records from being accessed without proper authorization.  

Attorneys for UCLA argued at closing that the blame for what happened to Lozano rested with Dr. Edwards and his former employee, Price. Several jurors, according to Law360, stated after the trial that they felt “UCLA was the wrong target for Lozano’s suit.” One juror told the news outlet that he may have reached a different verdict had either Price or Dr. Edwards been the defendants, and not UCLA.

Notably, the UCLA health system announced just weeks ago that cybercriminals had hacked into its network and that the attack had affected approximately 4.5 million people. Whether or not the hackers gained access to any personal or medical information is not known, and a cooperative investigation with the FBI is currently underway.

— Eric W. Shannon, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, New York, NY

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