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NS close to settling $1 million privacy suit

Ray WagnerHALIFAX – Hundreds of Nova Scotian hospital patients may get to share a $1-million settlement in a case involving breaches of their privacy.

Halifax’s Wagners Law Firm has reached a proposed settlement with a former provincial health authority and if it’s approved, will offer $1,000 each to nearly 700 plaintiffs they represent in a class-action lawsuit, the Chronicle Herald newspaper reported.

In 2012, the South West Nova District Health Authority sent letters to 700 people, telling them an employee had “inappropriately” accessed their health information, according to a Wagners news release.

Now, Wagners has promised – if the court accepts the proposed settlement – to give each member of the subsequent class-action lawsuit $1,000 of the $1-million payment from South West.

“We are very excited to deliver some relief to people impacted as a result of this privacy breach,” said Ray Wagner (pictured) in a phone interview with The Chronicle Herald.

“We were happy to come to a resolution before trial, given the uncertainty of a courtroom environment.”

A two-week trial was to begin in June but it has been replaced with a settlement approval hearing.

The original lawsuit included 717 people, but over the years some opted out, and the access to others’ records by the staffer was found to be for legitimate reasons.

The Roseway Hospital in Shelburne had previously disclosed that the employee had accessed the files through a work computer. The employee was fired.

“The actual number is 686, and we are committed to giving $1,000 to each of those people,” said Wagner.

The number includes legal fees and the costs of administering the settlement.

“The privacy breaches in the advent of electronic info has become a recent issue. But we would be the first to get a resolution,” he said.

“This could set an important precedent and give credibility to the responsibility of information holders to make sure privacy is respected.”

The Department of Health deferred questions about the proposed settlement to the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“The settlement is still subject to court approval; however, we are pleased we are close to reaching a conclusion to this incident,” wrote NSHA spokeswoman Kristen Lipscombe in an email.

“We want people to know NSHA is committed to protecting the confidentiality of patient information and to following the Personal Health Information Act. Any suspected breach of confidentiality is immediately and fully investigated.”

She wrote that privacy policies are reviewed regularly, and audits are done as well as confidentiality training for employees.

“Employees also sign a confidentiality pledge as part of a commitment to protect privacy,” she wrote.

“It is essential that patients are able to trust that their personal health information is protected. We regret this happened and apologize to those who were impacted by this incident.”

Wagner says it’s important to note the settlement “is not an admission of liability.”

“Both parties weighed the pros and cons and decided a settlement was the way to go.”

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