HIV confidentiality prevents disclosure of records despite impact on case
Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. A127580 (Cal. Ct. App. 10/08/10, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the California Court of Appeal held that a worker, who claimed to have contracted the human immunodeficiency virus as a result of contact with an infected child in her work at a hospital, was not entitled to receive hospital records stating the HIV status of children she encountered in a discovery request even though the request did not require the disclosure of the names of children who tested positive for HIV.
What it means: California law prohibits the disclosure of reported cases of HIV infection in a third party's legal proceeding.
Summary: An infant development specialist for a hospital claimed that she contracted HIV as a result of her contact with an infected child while she was working in the parent-infant program. She claimed to have "no documented HIV risk factors." To substantiate her theory, the specialist served a discovery request seeking all hospital records that reflected the HIV status of children in the program. The hospital agreed to provide the requested documentation for a three-year period, which was the timeframe the specialist was most likely infected. The records showed that none of the children were infected, so the specialist sought records from other years. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board ordered the hospital to review medical records for a 14-year period and disclose the number of children in the program who were HIV-positive with the ages and genders of the children. The California Court of Appeal held that the specialist was not entitled to the documentation.
California law prohibits the disclosure of a person's HIV status in a third party's legal proceeding. The specialist argued that her discovery request fell outside the statute because the anonymity of the children would be maintained and that all she sought was statistical data rather than personal, identifying information. The court stated that to acquire the information sought would require hospital personnel to search medical files and record information about a child's age, gender, and dates in the program. This limited disclosure of identifying characteristics would violate the "absolute" protection of the law, according to the court.
The specialist argued that without the requested information, her workers' compensation case would likely fail for lack of proof. The court stated that argument would require balancing a litigant's need for discovery against an individual's right to privacy, which was an approach rejected by the legislature.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
December 6, 2010
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