A Coffee County jury on Tuesday awarded $300,000, including punitive damages, to plaintiff Amy Pertuit against Medical Center Enterprise for illegal access and disclosure of protected health information.
In a unanimous verdict, the jury found that Medical Center Enterprise failed to take action against its then-employee, Dr. Lyn Diefenderfer, after it learned that Dr. Diefenderfer had illegally accessed and disclosed Pertuit’s medical records to another person involved in a custody battle with a former husband. The incident happened in January of 2015.
According to attorney Regina Cash, who represented the plaintiff along with attorney Riley Powell, Pertuit’s husband, Leif, was involved in a visitation matter with his ex-wife, identified as Deanna Mortenson.
“Mortenson got Dr. Diefenderfer to access Amy’s records on a website called the Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Program,” Cash said. “Dr. Diefenderfer was not Amy’s doctor, nor was (Pertuit) ever a patient of Medical Center Enterprise.”
Mortensen disclosed the information to Gary Bradshaw, her attorney, for use against Pertuit’s husband in a custody battle.
Cash said $295,000 of the damages were punitive “against the hospital for its failure to properly investigate and punish Dr. Diefenderfer,” as MCE had apparently been made aware of Dr. Diefenderfer’s actions.
“Amy contacted the Department of Health and Human Services, which polices HIPAA violations, and filed a formal complaint with them,” Cash said. “(The department) put the hospital on notice but the hospital didn’t do anything about it, which is a violation of their own privacy policies.”
The remaining $5,000 is conciliatory for “pain, suffering and humiliation.”
Cash said Pertuit filed suits against Dr. Diefenderfer, Mortensen, and Bradshaw, but all three settled pre-trial.
Cash also said Dr. Diefenderfer in 2016 again disclosed information to Mortensen “which is after the hospital knew about it and took no actions against it again.”
Dr. Diefenderfer is now listed as chief of hospital medicine at Troy Regional Medical Center.