The Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on May 26, 2020, “We conclude that Appellees’ claims do not fall within the purview of the MMA and that the trial court properly denied Community’s motion to dismiss. Additionally, on the claims involving respondeat superior, negligent training, supervision, and retention, and negligence, there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment in Community’s favor. However, to the extent that Appellees’ respondeat superior claim is based on an underlying act of invasion of privacy/intrusion by Katrina, we conclude that Community is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, in part, on the respondeat superior claim.”
The Underlying Facts
In September 2013, as a result of receiving a complaint, Community Health Network, Inc. (“Community”) determined that at various times between January and September 2013, its employee, Katrina Gray (“Katrina”), had used a Community computer system to look up private health information of Community’s patients. She did so while she was on the job using equipment, software, and credentials provided to her by Community. Following Community’s investigation, Community placed Katrina on administrative leave and eventually terminated her employment.
The plaintiffs sued Community and Katrina for Katrina’s alleged unauthorized access of their private health information while she was an employee of Community. The plaintiffs brought claims for vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior and negligent training, supervision, and retention against Community, and claims of negligence and invasion of privacy/intrusion against Katrina.
Community argued that the plaintiffs’ claims fall within the purview of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (the “MMA”), that the plaintiffs failed to comply with the procedural prerequisites of the MMA, and that the trial court erred by denying summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims of respondeat superior and negligent training, supervision, and retention. Community also argued that even if Katrina’s actions were within the scope of her employment, it cannot be held vicariously liable under respondeat superior for Katrina’s actions because the plaintiffs’ underlying negligence and invasion of privacy/intrusion claims against Katrina are not actionable under Indiana law.
Indiana Appellate Court Opinion
The Indiana Appellate Court stated that in order to fall within the purview of the MMA, a provider’s conduct must be undertaken in the interest of, or for the benefit of, the patient’s health (i.e., the conduct must be curative or salutary conduct of a health care provider acting within his or her professional capacity). Conversely, the MMA does not apply to conduct “demonstrably unrelated to the promotion of the plaintiff’s health or an exercise of the provider’s professional expertise, skill, or judgment.”
The Indiana Appellate Court stated, “Here, the underlying claims against Community are for respondeat superior and negligent training, supervision, and retention. Appellees do not allege that records were lost, nor do they claim that Katrina provided them medically improper treatment; rather, their claims against Community arise from Katrina’s access of their confidential health information records. As such, the MMA does not apply to Appellees’ claims because the conduct at issue is “demonstrably unrelated to the promotion of the plaintiff’s health or an exercise of the provider’s professional expertise, skill, or judgment.””
The Indiana Appellate Court explained that Katrina’s “position did not involve the provision of health care to Appellees. Furthermore, Appellees were not patients of the practice at which Katrina worked. It cannot be said that her conduct was in furtherance of providing health care or professional services to Appellees … Accordingly, Appellees’ claims are not related to the promotion of their health and do not involve the use of professional expertise, skill, or judgment, as contemplated by the MMA. Therefore, the trial court did not lack subject matter jurisdiction and did not err when it denied Community’s motion to dismiss.”
The Indiana Appellate Court further held: “While Appellees’ respondeat superior and negligent supervision, training and retention claims are alternative theories for holding an employer liable, our supreme court has held that unless an “employer admits that an employee was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment,” both claims may proceed … Here, Community has not made such an admission. Thus, we conclude that given the stage in litigation, the trial court did not err in allowing Appellees to proceed on both claims for respondeat superior and negligent supervision, training, and retention.”
The Indiana Appellate Court explained: “Katrina’s actions were of the same general nature as those authorized, or incidental to the actions that were authorized, by Community. There is no dispute that Katrina was authorized to use her assigned desktop computer with Epic and other software to access patient health information. There remains a question of fact regarding why and what Katrina did with Appellees’ private health information. Because Katrina misused employer conferred power and authority to access the health information, whether Katrina was acting within the scope of her employment is an issue to be determined by the trier of fact … Accordingly, the trial court did not err when it denied Community’s motion for summary judgment on Appellees’ respondeat superior claim.”
Source Community Health Network, Inc. v. McKenzie, Opinion 19A-CT-873.
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