San Diego is known for its tech savvy corporations and keen legal eagles however recent events portray a clash between the two as a civil suit finds itself at the center of a greater alleged crime. Lawyers for San Diego are being accused of illegally obtaining information to settle a civil lawsuit for the 3rd time this year. The U.S. District Court received the news when the parent of a deceased convict named Jason Nishimoto, came forward to claim mishandling at the Vista Detention Facility where he was kept. The man’s mother alleges that he was mistreated and improperly supervised during his stay.
Files for Mr. Nishimoto, which were written by a psychiatric nurse by the name of Anne Brantman, were reviewed by medical professionals at the request of San Diego County. Brantman had first been asked to evaluate the patient during 2015, when he displayed suicidal thoughts and tendencies. He later hanged himself, despite warnings that he was always to be watched within the jail.
The Problem with These Tactics
Whether it’s relevant to use this information in a case pertaining to an unrelated suit is not in question. The issue lies in the HIPAA, which is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protecting information stored digitally regarding patients, insurance coverage, medical transactions, and more.
There is also the idea that Nishimoto’s mother’s team should be made privy to the same information. The case, which is presided over by Judge Roger T. Benitez has until the end of October to complete “Discovery”, the process wherein data about the case is put into evidence. Plaintiffs are making the plea to Judge Benitez that the deadline be extended into late January pending the sharing of this and other collected information.
Nishimoto’s mother hired Christopher Morris, a lawyer from San Diego who has been open in this disappointment regarding the city’s tactics in the case. He has suggested that the County will be using other inmate files to argue their defense, something he calls a clear violation of the HIPAA. This is not the first time a complaint like this has been made against the County, which has a recent class-action suit claiming similar violations of privacy with confidential files from a foster-care case where children’s files were wrongly examined.
What This Means for Future Cases
While the clear violation of HIPAA in these cases doesn’t bode well for the County Council’s Office, it doesn’t appear as if it’s slowing them from repeating the mistake. On the third violation this year, it may take some heavy legal changes to enforce the legal team from continuing to tread on the thin ice which governs the use of confidential patient and juvenile information in these cases.
The hope remains that information of this nature goes through all appropriate channels before being sequestered for legal cases, no matter the type of lawyers requesting the data. Should the County face legal repercussions for their action it could overthrow their entire plan for this and future cases, forcing them to reassess evidence and their overall defense.