The Arkansas Supreme Court today kept alive a damage suit filed by the mother of slain KATV anchor Anne Pressly over unauthorized sharing of her medical records when she was hospitalized after she was raped and beaten in her home in October 2008. She died of the injuries.
The Supreme Court upheld Judge Leon Johnson’s finding that Presley’s mother and estate administrator, Patricia Cannady, could not pursue an invasion of privacy claim because privacy protections don’t extend to other parties and the claim ended at Pressley’s death.
The Supreme Court, however, said a trial was required on a claim of “outrage” by Cannady. The hospital argued this claim also did not survive Pressly’s death. The Supreme Court said, however, that this point of law was not yet ripe for decision. It said Johnson had not made a final ruling that a claim of outrage could or could not be pursued, though he did
The suit was filed against St. Vincent Infirmary, where Pressly was hospitalized; two hospital employees, Candida Griffin and Sarah Miller, and a physician. Dr. Jay Holland. The doctor and employees were accused in the suit of accessing Pressly’s medical records without good reason, in Holland’s case from his home.
Justice Josephine Hart dissented. She wrote:
The elephant in the room throughout the long procedural history of this case—Ms. Cannady filed her first complaint on October 16, 2009—has always been whether the conduct complained of actually supported a cause of action recognized in Arkansas law.
Ms. Cannady asserted two theories to address the unauthorized viewing of her daughter’s medical records: the tort of invasion of privacy and the tort of outrage. The former was eliminated when this court partially affirmed a directed verdict in Cannady v. St. Vincent Infirmary Med. Ctr. That left only the tort of outrage.
In my view, the allegations in Ms. Cannady’s complaint simply do not constitute the tort of outrage. To establish an outrage claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate the following elements: (1) the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; (2) the conduct was “extreme and outrageous,” was “beyond all possible bounds of decency,” and was “utterly intolerable in a civilized community”; (3) the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff’s distress; and (4) the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.
But Hart said that if an outrage claim can be pursued, then there are issues of fact that could be considered as to the hospital’s liability, including whether
The St. Vincent employees were fired. They and Holland pleaded guilty to misdemeanor privacy law violations. Curtis Vance is serving a life sentence for Pressly’s murder.
Gerry Schulze, one of Cannady’s attorneys, said he was disappointed by the ruling because he thinks it will make it harder to sue large businesses for actions of their employees, they can simply say, “We told them not to do that.” But he said they were prepared to pursue the case remaining.