The mother of a slain Little Rock, Ark., TV anchor can proceed with a lawsuit claiming outrageous behavior by a hospital and three workers who illegally looked at her daughter’s medical files, but an invasion of privacy claim must be dropped, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Patricia Cannady’s lawyers argued last month that a lower court judge was wrong to throw out her lawsuit against St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, where her daughter Anne Pressly spent the last days of her life.
The justices ruled Thursday that Cannady can sue the hospital for outrageous behavior, because that claim is made on their own, not Pressly’s behalf. But they upheld a lower court’s ruling that Pressly’s family cannot seek punitive damages for invasion of the slain woman’s privacy.
“The crux of the (lower) court’s order was that the outrage claim failed because it was based on the same conduct as the privacy violation claim,” the justices said in the ruling. “However, neither St. Vincent nor the circuit court has cited any authority for the proposition that two separate claims cannot be based on the same conduct. In addition, the outrage claim was not made on behalf of the decedent but on appellant’s own behalf.”
Cannady found 26-year-old Pressly unconscious from a severe beating at her home on the morning of Oct. 20, 2008. Pressly, an anchorwoman at KATV, was taken to St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, where she clung onto her life for five days before dying Oct. 25.
Curtis Vance, who police say was in Pressly’s neighborhood to rob homes, was convicted of capital murder in her death and sentenced to life in prison.
Dr. Jay Holland, a family physician who did not treat Pressly, was accused of looking at Pressly’s electronic file from home. In 2009, he, Candida Griffin and Sarah Elizabeth Miller pleaded guilty to wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. In their plea agreements, all three said they viewed the file out of personal curiosity and didn’t pass information to other people.
Griffin is a former emergency room unit coordinator at St. Vincent Health System and Miller is a former account representative at St. Vincent Medical Center in Sherwood.
Attorneys for the hospital and Holland argued that the Pulaski County judge correctly relied on case law going back to the 1880s that says intangible injury claims do not survive after someone’s death. Beverly Rowlett, an attorney for St. Vincent, said Cannady could offer no direct proof about how Pressly might have been hurt by any disclosure of private medical information.
Cannady’s lawyers, Bobby McDaniel and Gerry Schulze, didn’t respond to calls seeking comment Thursday morning.
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