A recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Indiana reinforces the peril faced by health care employers when employees authorized to access confidential information do so for improper purposes. InWalgreen Co. v. Hinchy, the plaintiff Abigail Hinchy alleged that a Walgreens pharmacist had inappropriately accessed and disclosed the plaintiff’s prescription information.

In August 2011, Hinchy sued the pharmacist for negligence and public disclosure of private facts and Walgreen Co. as her employer, alleging that Walgreen Co. was responsible for the wrongful actions of the pharmacist under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The jury found in Hinchy’s favor and determined that total damages were equal to $1.8 million, but reduced the damages verdict based on its finding that Peterson was 20% at fault, with the pharmacist and Walgreen Co. jointly responsible for the remaining 80%.

On appeal, Walgreen Co. focused its challenge on respondeat superior, arguing that the pharmacist was acting outside the scope of her employment and that the issue should not have been allowed to go to the jury. On November 14, the Court of Appeals of Indiana upheld the trial court’s denials of motions for summary judgment and directed verdict, holding that “conduct is within the scope of employment when it is of the same general nature as that authorized, or incidental to conduct authorized,” and that it weighs in favor of respondeat superior when a tortfeasor is empowered to commit the tort because of his employment. Accordingly, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to allow the question to go to the jury. Walgreen Co. is planning to appeal.

A copy of the decision is available here.