Nova Scotia

Class-action lawsuit filed against Nova Scotia Health for privacy breaches

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Nova Scotia Health relating to privacy breaches of more than 200 patients since 2018.

Seeks to create a class of more than 300 plaintiffs for privacy breaches since 2018

Carla Munroe hopes the lawsuit will ultimately improve medical privacy in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Carla Munroe wants to be the legal voice for hundreds of Nova Scotians whose privacy was breached when medical clerks snooped on their hospital files. 

The Hammonds Plains resident is the proposed lead plaintiff of a class-action lawsuit filed Monday at Nova Scotia Supreme Court. 

"It feels good that we are getting some movement on this," Monroe said. 

"I'm hoping that with this lawsuit we will promote change within (Nova Scotia Health) and nobody will be affected like we have been in this case," she said. 

A medical transcriptionist working for Nova Scotia Health snooped on Munroe's records of her breast cancer treatment.

The transcriptionist was dating the ex of Munroe's closest friend. 

"There's nothing like being violated in that way," Munroe said. 

Three major breaches since 2018

According to Nova Scotia Health, the transcriptionist who read Munroe's medical files snooped on sixty patients in total. 

Those patients were informed of the breaches in September 2019. 

Nova Scotia Health also admitted in early August 2020 that two other medical clerks had improperly accessed the records of 211 patients at Nova Scotia hospitals in New Glasgow and Kentville. 

None of the employees who committed the breaches is still employed by the health authority. 

Serious impact for some victims

Since CBC News reported on her privacy breach, Carla Munroe says she's been in touch with approximately twenty other people whose medical records were breached by the same medical clerk. 

She says those incidents included sensitive information such as mental health treatment, or treatments for sexually transmitted infections. 

A class-action lawsuit was filed against Nova Scotia Health on Monday, seeking to create a class of more than 300 plaintiffs affected by privacy breaches since 2018. (Shutterstock)

Munroe says those disclosures can be devastating.

"It's affected their work, their home life, they don't feel comfortable in their own community. Some people haven't been able to work," Munroe said. 

"You wonder, will it happen again? Maybe if I have something wrong, do I really want to go to the doctor?" 

'Highly offensive'

The lawsuit does not name the clerks who committed the privacy breaches, but instead targets their employer, Nova Scotia Health. 

It seeks to create a class of more than 300 plaintiffs for all privacy breaches at Nova Scotia hospitals between 2018 and 2020. 

"The invasion of privacy of the plaintiff and the proposed class members is highly offensive due to the inherently personal nature of the information involved in the breach," said a statement of claim filed Monday with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. 

The lawsuit says Carla Munroe suffered "distress, humiliation and anguish" over the privacy breach.

It says patients whose privacy was breached are owed damages for the torts of "intrusion upon seclusion," plus negligence and breach of contract. 

It claims regular damages, plus aggravated and punitive damages because of the medical clerks' "reckless or willful disregard and gross violation" of the patients' privacy rights. 

Aiming for change

Carla Munroe says for her, the most important outcome of this lawsuit would be a strengthening of privacy protections in hospitals. 

"Our private information ... has been violated so many times by so many people. And it is so easy to do," she said. 

"There needs to be change in there to make sure that this doesn't happen to somebody else."

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About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian

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