$400K settlement reached in Capital Health patient privacy breach

The settlement relates to a class-action lawsuit launched after a former Capital District Health Authority employee viewed the confidential information of 105 friends and family members.

An estimated 105 people had their personal health information improperly accessed between 2005 and 2011

The breaches were by a Capital Health employee who no longer works for the health authority. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A proposed settlement worth about $400,000 has been reached in a Nova Scotia class-action lawsuit relating to the improper access of patients's personal health information by an employee of the former Capital District Health Authority, according to a law firm involved in the case.

The breaches by former employee Katharine Zinck Lawrence, who accessed the information of an estimated 105 friends and family members while working for the health authority, occurred between 2005 and the fall of 2011. 

"Having your private information accessed by somebody that you did not authorize to have access to is troubling and causes distress to individuals," said lawyer Ray Wagner, whose law firm Wagners is one of three firms representing victims in the case.

The Capital District Health Authority was merged with other regional health authorities in 2015 to create the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA).

How much money people are receiving

According to Wagners, the proposed settlement says non-relatives shall each receive $1,400, while relatives would receive $2,750 because of the familial relationship with Zinck.

A third category could see patients receive up to $8,000 if they feel they've suffered additional harm as a result of the breaches.

"In other words, some of this information was disseminated into the general community or there was some other aspect of it that caused some harm that is over and above what each individual has typically suffered in knowing that their privacy had been breached, but nothing more, then you have right to make a claim," said Wagner.

Why the employee accessed the information

Speaking to CBC News in 2012, Zinck acknowledged she viewed the files of family and friends. She said she wasn't proud of what she did and explained her actions this way: "Plain and simple, the information was there. So easy."

Katharine Zinck Lawrence is the former Capital Health staffer who improperly accessed the people's health information. (CBC)

The proposed settlement must be approved by a Supreme Court of Nova Scotia judge. A hearing will be held Oct. 31 in Halifax.

Wagner said most proposed settlements are approved by the courts.

Nova Scotia Health Authority response

In a statement, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said it takes its commitment to personal privacy seriously and it's essential that patients can trust their personal information is protected.

"It is important for people to know the vast majority of NSHA staff understand their responsibilities, the personal health information legislation and respect the confidentiality of private information," said spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe in an email.

"We continually review our systems, processes, privacy policies and confidentiality training for employees to reduce the likelihood of this type of breach from happening again."

She said the health authority also conducts monthly audits to protect against privacy breaches.

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