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Appeals Court: Federal Government Can Be Sued for Emotional Distress over Medical Records Incident

PRIVACY LAW—U.S.

February 23, 2010

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a pilot who lost his license for failing to disclose his HIV status to the Federal Aviation Administration has the right to sue for emotional distress caused by the Social Security Administration releasing his medical records without his permission, the Washington Post reports. The case is linked to a criminal investigation in which the pilot pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making a false statement but later sued the federal government for violating the Privacy Act by sharing his medical records. While a district court judge agreed the records were improperly handled, he dismissed the case because the claim alleged only emotional distress. On Monday, the appeals court judges ruled unanimously that emotional distress constitutes actual damages and reinstated the lawsuit.
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