|Updated: 9/13/2012 2:44 pm
||Published: 9/13/2012 7:50 am
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The mother of slain Little Rock TV anchor Anne Pressly should be allowed to proceed with a lawsuit against a hospital and three workers who illegally looked at her dead daughter's medical files despite a judge's ruling that privacy claims can't be pursued after someone's death, an attorney told the Arkansas Supreme Court Thursday.
Justices on Thursday heard oral arguments in Patricia Cannady's lawsuit against St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center over claims that her daughter's privacy was violated when the medical files were accessed. Cannady is appealing a Pulaski County judge's ruling that the law doesn't allow privacy claims to proceed after the affected person's death.
Gerry Schulze, Cannady's attorney, said justices should show the public that invasion of privacy won't be tolerated, even if the victim is dead.
"We have to say certain things are intolerable and we're not going to let you get away with them, even if your victim dies," Schulze told justices.
Pressly, 26, an anchorwoman at television station KATV, was found at her home by her mother on the morning of Oct. 20, 2008, unconscious from a severe beating. She was taken to St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, where she survived five days before dying Oct. 25. Curtis Vance, who allegedly told police he 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 on 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 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.
"How on earth do you prove what that particular plaintiff or that particular decedent whose right of privacy was invaded, what damage was caused to that decedent by that?" she said.
Schulze, however, said the court has a chance to modernize the state law regarding invasion of privacy claims.
"When 19th century principles have to be applied to the 21st century, we have to bring our understanding of the 21st century," he said. "We cannot allow a wrong like this to go unaddressed because of principles that are completely different."
Brian Brooks, an attorney representing Holland, said lawmakers are the only ones who can change the state law to include allow invasion of privacy claims to be pursued after someone's death and noted that the Legislature has yet to do so.
"If it thought you were wrong, it would have changed the survival statute," Brooks said.
Justices did not indicate when they would rule on the case.
After the hearing, Cannady and her attorneys told reporters they wanted the case to go forward to protect others at hospitals from similar breaches.
"It's very important for all Arkansans," Cannady said. "It's privacy for all of us. It's important. It was very important to Anne when she was alive, and it's important after her death."
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