A thirteen-year-old girl was treated at a hospital after she was sexually assaulted. When she returned to school, students teased her about the sexual assault. Students said they had heard about the assault from a classmate who was the daughter of a nurse who worked in the emergency room (ER) at the hospital and was on duty at the time the girl was treated.
The girl sued the nurse and hospital for breach of confidentiality. The complaint alleged that the disclosure of this information to other classmates and the community caused her traumatic emotional distress.
The judge who heard the breach of confidentiality case in the Rankin County Circuit Court had been the prosecutor in the underlying rape case. The girl did not file a motion for recusal. During a telephone conference with all parties and the trial judge, the girl’s counsel advised the judge that he might be called as a witness and asked whether this presented a conflict of interest that would warrant recusal. The trial judge stated that his involvement in the underlying prosecution of the sexual assault would not interfere with his partiality and ability as a judge at the trial of this case.
The girl testified that she did not recall the names of the students who approached her about the sexual assault. She did not produce any witnesses or documentary evidence to substantiate her claim that the nurse was the source of rumors at the school or that nurse knew the girl.
The nurse testified that she did not know or recognize the girl or know why she was receiving treatment at the hospital. She did not tell her daughter about the girl’s treatment. She found out about the sexual assault from her daughter who had heard about it from other students.
The trial court granted the nurse and hospital summary judgment.
The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed. The court held that the girl’s circumstantial evidence failed to establish that the nurse was the only possible person who disseminated information that the girl had been sexually assaulted, the girl’s testimony about the statements made by her unidentified classmates was hearsay and was not admissible evidence to prove a breach of confidentiality, evidence that the nurse had used drugs and was terminated from her employment at the hospital due to drug use would be inadmissible at trial and was insufficient to rebut the motion for summary judgment, and the trial judge’s failure to recuse himself did not constitute reversible error.
The girl’s circumstantial evidence failed to establish that the nurse was the only possible person who disseminated information that the girl had been sexually assaulted. Negligence may be proven by circumstantial evidence but only if it is sufficiently leads to a legitimate inference. The court noted that the girl did not depose her friend, who was present during the assault, or the boys who allegedly committed the assault, so they could not be excluded as the source of the information to the girl’s classmates. The girl did not present any testimony from police officers, who were with the girl and her parents at the police station, as to whether they disclosed the information about the alleged assault. The court found that, without such testimony eliminating possible alternative sources of the gossip to counter the nurse’s and hospital’s motion for summary judgment, the girl did not take the case out of the realm of conjecture and place it within the field of a legitimate inference of liability.
The girl’s testimony about the statements made by her unidentified classmates was hearsay and was not admissible evidence to prove a breach of confidentiality. The girl testified that she did not remember the names of the students who approached her at school. The girl confronted the nurse’s daughter. The girl had no personal knowledge or any other admissible evidence that the nurse had disclosed her confidential medical information to anyone. The nurse testified that she had not told her daughter that the girl had received medical treatment at the hospital. The court held that the girl could not overcome the lack of direct evidence of the nurse’s supposed breach of confidentiality through speculation and conjecture.
Evidence that the nurse had used drugs and was terminated from her employment at the hospital due to drug use would be inadmissible at trial and was insufficient to rebut the motion for summary judgment. The girl did not show that the nurse was in any way impaired at the time of her deposition or at work in the ER when the girl was treated. The nurse’s alleged lack of credibility due to drug use did not create a genuine issue of material fact that would defeat the nurse’s and hospital’s motions for summary judgment.
The trial judge’s failure to recuse himself did not constitute reversible error. The girl never filed a motion for recusal of the trial judge. If the girl’s counsel’s indication that the judge might be a witness constituted a motion to recuse, the argument failed because the girl did not appeal the denial of the motion within the limitations period provided by statute.
The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the nurse and hospital.
See: Doe v. Rankin Medical Center, 2016 WL 916628 (Miss., March 10, 2016) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2012 Report: Liability for Electronic and Other Medical Record Information Disclosure