No Right to Sue Under HIPAA When Police Receive Hospital Blood Test

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Stewart v. Parkview Hospital, 940 F.3d 1013 (7th Cir. 2019)

Tyquan Stewart crashed his car while driving under the influence of alcohol, suffering significant injuries. An emergency room doctor ordered a blood draw as part of the diagnosis and treatment and the results showed Stewart had consumed alcohol. The investigating officer requested and received the blood-test results from the hospital, as state law mandated the health care provider to share the blood test results in such circumstances. Stewart was convicted of driving under the influence.

Stewart sued the officer for violating the Fourth Amendment by obtaining his test results without a warrant and sued the hospital for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by disclosing the blood test results.

Though this was a case of first impression for the 7th Circuit, all other federal appellate courts to consider the question agree HIPAA does not provide an individual enforcement right.

HIPAA prohibits the disclosure of medical records without the patient’s consent. However, the right to enforce the statute is clearly vested in the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The statute is silent on whether a patient may sue to enforce HIPAA provisions. Noting this was the first case in the 7th Circuit to consider the issue, the court held there is no private enforcement right. Thus, whether or not the hospital violated HIPAA in complying with state law and disclosing the blood test results, Stewart could not sue the officer or the hospital.

Though this was a case of first impression for the 7th Circuit, all other federal appellate courts to consider the question agree HIPAA does not provide an individual enforcement right. The officer in this case was wise to stand back and wait for the medical professionals to do their job. When a suspected impaired driver (or other person) is taken to an emergency department, medical protocols will almost always call for a blood test. Any Fourth Amendment issue is far less problematic when blood is drawn and tested for medical purposes and a report of the results are lawfully obtained for investigation and prosecution purposes.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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