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Lawsuit over Pressly medical records reaches high court

LITTLE ROCK — An attorney for the mother of slain Little Rock TV anchor Anne Pressly argued Thursday before the state Supreme Court that a lawsuit against a Little Rock hospital and three workers over the illegal viewing of Pressly’s medical file should proceed.

An attorney for St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center argued that the lawsuit made claims that are not permitted in connection with a deceased victim.

The high court heard oral arguments but did not immediately issue a ruling Thursday in the appeal by Patricia Cannady, whose lawsuit alleged that three medical workers committed an invasion of privacy and inflicted emotional distress or outrage on Pressly’s family by viewing Pressly’s records after she was taken to the hospital on Oct. 20, 2008, following an attack in her home.

Pressly, an anchor for KATV-TV, died of her injuries on Oct. 25, 2008. Curtis Vance was convicted of capital murder, rape and burglary in the attack and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

In 2009, family physician Dr. Jay Holland, former emergency room coordinator Candida Griffin and Sarah Miller, a former account representative at St. Vincent Medical Center in Sherwood, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of illegally accessing medical records. The three, who did not treat Pressly, were named as defendants in Cannady’s suit along with St. Vincent.

Cannady filed an appeal after a Pulaski County circuit Judge ruled that privacy claims cannot proceed after the person whose privacy was invaded has died.

Gerry Schulze, attorney for Cannady, argued Thursday that Pressly was not the only victim in the case.

“It was not only something offensive to the individual victim, but because of the seriousness of her injuries and the serious risk that she might not survive, it was easily foreseeable that this type of invasion of privacy would be offensive to her survivors as well,” he said.

Beverly Rowlett, attorney for St. Vincent, argued that an 1883 state law prohibits injury claims from proceeding after a person’s death.

“The action does not survive and can be brought only by a living individual whose privacy was invaded,” she said.

Schulze argued that the 1883 law was written before computer medical records existed and before invasion of privacy and outrage were concepts recognized by the legal system. He said the law should be interpreted in accordance with modern principles.

“The statutes … don’t freeze the law in 1883. It has to come forward,” he said.

Brian Brooks, attorney for Holland, said there is no precedent for the claim that the invasion of a person’s privacy makes the person’s parent a victim under the law, and he urged the court not to set such a precedent.

“This slope is slippery,” he said.

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