Judge: Mom of Slain Ark. Anchor Can’t Sue Over Privacy

October 18, 2011

Arkansas law doesn’t allow the mother of a slain Little Rock news anchor to proceed with a privacy lawsuit against a hospital and three workers whom she accused of illegally looking at her dead daughter’s medical files, a circuit court judge has ruled.

In a two-page decision issued Friday, Circuit Court Judge Leon Johnson found that the law doesn’t allow privacy claims to proceed after the death of the individual affected, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Patricia Cannady had sued St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in 2009 over the privacy issue after the death of her daughter, Anne Pressly. It was Cannady who found her daughter unconscious. Pressly had been beaten and raped, authorities said.

Pressly languished at the hospital for five days before she died on Oct. 25, 2008.

Cannady filed the lawsuit shortly after Dr. Jay Holland, Candida Griffin and Sara Miller pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor medical privacy violations. They were sentenced to probation and fined, and Griffin and Miller were fired.

Attorneys for the defendants argued that the case should be thrown out because the plaintiff could offer no direct proof about how Pressly might have been hurt by any disclosure of private medical information.

The statute bars after-death libel and slander suits, but does not specifically list privacy. In arguing that survivors cannot maintain a privacy lawsuit after death, the hospital and employees relied on a series of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings that date back to an 1883 lawsuit, the Democrat-Gazette reported. The case, Ward v. Blackwood, involved a lawsuit against a prison warden brought by the survivors of a guard whom he had beaten for sleeping on duty and allowing several inmates to escape.

No telephone listing for Cannady could be located on Sunday. An after-hours call to the lawyer listed in court records as her attorney, James Schulze, wasn’t immediately returned.

A call and an email sent to attorneys representing the hospital weren’t immediately returned.

A jury convicted Marianna resident Curtis Vance of capital murder in Pressly’s death. He was sentenced him to life in prison.

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