New York’s highest court on Thursday reinstated a widow’s lawsuit over a television documentary featuring her husband’s treatment and death at a New York hospital.
The Court of Appeals ruled the suit alleging breach of doctor-patient confidentiality can continue against New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Dr. Sebastian Schubl, the treating physician.
“We reject the assertion of the hospital and Schubl that, in order to support such a cause of action, the disclosed medical information must be embarrassing or something that patients would naturally wish to keep secret,” Judge Leslie Stein wrote.
The top court, however, agreed with a lower court in dismissing the suit’s complaint against them and ABC alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. That requires a finding of extreme and outrageous conduct, either intended or in disregard of the high probability that it would cause extreme distress.
“The conduct at issue here for purposes of the fifth cause of action – the broadcasting of a recording of a patient’s last moments of life without consent – would likely be considered reprehensible by most people, and we do not condone it,” Stein wrote. “Nevertheless, it was not so extreme and outrageous as to satisfy our exceedingly high legal standard.”
Stein noted that the broadcasters edited the footage, didn’t include Mark Chanko’s name and blurred his image, reducing 50 minutes of raw footage to three minutes that aired. The camera crew filmed Schubl declaring Chanko dead and informing his family, who didn’t know they were being recorded, Stein wrote.
The “NY Med” show depicted Chanko, who was brought into the emergency room in April 2011 after he was hit by a truck while crossing a street near his home on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. He could be seen lying on a stretcher and heard moaning and saying, “Did you speak to my wife?”
Anita Chanko learned of the filming when she saw the broadcast in 2012. The case now goes back to the trial court.
It’s a clear message that there shouldn’t be recording or broadcasting without consent, said attorney Normal Olch, who represents Anita Chanko and other family members. “It’s a great victory for patient rights.”
Calls to attorneys for the hospital, doctor and ABC were not immediately returned.
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