Patient privacy lawsuit leads to momentous verdict

In a momentous verdict a jury awarded Pachowitz $3,000.00 in damages and made a groundbreaking achievement for the rights of patient privacy after finding that an Emergency Medical Technician disclosed confidential medical information to Pachowitz’s fellow employees. This verdict marked the first time a medical provider was found to have invaded the privacy of a patient by telling only one person of the patient’s medical information. The verdict was a groundbreaking achievement for the rights of patient privacy.

The jury found that an emergency medical technician invaded Pachowitz’s privacy by telling Pachowitz’s co-worker about the patient’s overdose. Attorneys for the Tess Corners Fire Department paramedic, Katherina Le Doux, had argued that an invasion of privacy occurs only when someone tells “the public or a sufficient number of persons” to effectively cause the public dissemination of private information. The jury disagreed. Although Le Doux told only one person about the overdose, that person turned around and told about 10 more people, including the co-workers of Julie Pachowitz of Muskego. After responding to Pachowitz’s overdose, Le Doux called Sally Slocomb. Le Doux had testified that she was deeply concerned about Pachowitz, who recovered from an overdose that her husband said was not a suicide attempt but a bad reaction to one of the 23 medications his wife was taking. Sally Slocomb and Pachowitz both worked as nurses at West Allis Memorial Hospital. Pachowitz was on a medical leave, and Slocomb expressed concerns about her health to Le Doux, according to testimony during the trial in May 2002. Although she did not know Pachowitz, Le Doux said she called Slocomb after the 911 call because she thought she could help Pachowitz. Slocomb drove to the hospital on her day off and told people there about the overdose.

The jury decided that Le Doux, the Tess Corners Fire Department and its insurer had to pay Pachowitz’s estate $3,000 for the invasion of privacy. In addition, Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis upheld Wisconsin law stating that the defendants also had to pay Pachowitz’s attorney fees of $30,460, plus court costs.

Attorney Jonathan Groth was lead trial counsel for the Pachowitz family. The case was tried in Waukesha County before Circuit Court Judge J. Mac Davis.