Doctor’s office ordered to pay woman $853,000 for releasing her records
BRIDGEPORT - Emily Byrne already made new law in Connecticut regarding a patient’s right to keep their medical records private, now a jury has awarded her more than $850,000 in damages.
A Superior Court jury deliberated less than two hours Wednesday before finding the Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology of Westport liable for the emotional suffering Byrne suffered when they released her records to a former boyfriend.
The jury awarded the psychiatric nurse, who now lives in Vermont, $853,000 but with interest the final judgement against Avery could reach $1.6 million.
Bruce Elstein, Byrnes’s lawyer, said it has been a long road for his client who initially filed suit against the Westport doctor’s office in 2007. Since then the case has gone up to the state Supreme Court twice. In January the state’s highest court ruled for the first time that patient’s do have a right to sue medical office’s for disclosing their me3dical information without the patient’s permission.
“The case created new law,” said Elstein. “The Supreme Court ruled a patient has a remedy for breaches of medical responsibility and that never occurred before.”
But that wasn’t enough for Byrne who claimed her life had been turned upside down when Avery released her medical records to Andro Mendoza, a man who Byrne claimed is bipolar and who she had secured protective orders against in the past.
Byrne was involved in a relationship with Mendoza from May 2004 to September 2004 during which she became pregnant, according to the lawsuit. She eventually gave birth to a baby girl but instructed her doctors at Avery not to release her medical records to Mendoza.
In 2005 she moved to Vermont. Two months later Mendoza filed paternity actions against Byrne in Connecticut and Vermont.
A lawyer hired by Mendoza subsequently got a subpoena or court order for Byrne’s medical records.
“They (Avery) decided to turn the medical information over to the court and Mendoza went to the court and got a copy of the records,” Elstein said. “He decided to use it to extort her. He made demands for joint custody of the child and claimed he would go public with the information.”
Included in the file was information about assaults that had taken place against Byrne when she was young and that she had previously had an abortion,” according to trial testimony. She comes from a religious family and had not told her parents about the abortion. They subsequently learned about it from Mendoza.
When Byrne rebuffed Mendoza, Elstein said Mendoza demanded she pay him $375,000 and that he have full custody of the daughter.
Elstein said Mendoza eventually was allowed supervised visits with the daughter but only saw the girl for a couple of hours in 2010 through 2012 and has no requested to see her since.
Jury the trial before Judge Thomas Welch Avery’s lawyer, James Biondo, admitted to the jury that his client had made a mistake in releasing Byrne’s medical records. But he claimed the emotional trauma she says she suffered was the responsibility of Mendoza not the medical group.
Mendoza did not attend the trial and could not be reached for comment.
“They point their finger of blame at everyone else but themselves,” Elstein told the jury of Avery. “Meanwhile my client will carry the memory for the rest of her life that her records were released.”