Lawsuit: NY FF disclosed patient's medical information at party

The Bellevue Fire Department is accused of negligence in allowing a patient's medical information to be shared and failing to notify the patient about the confidentiality breach


Jay Tokasz
The Buffalo News, N.Y.

DEPEW, N.Y. — A Depew man is accusing a local volunteer fire company of unlawfully allowing his confidential health care information to become public following an emergency call at the man's home last November.

Jake Szymanski said in a lawsuit against Bellevue Fire Department this week that one of the department's first responders revealed "personal and sensitive confidential medical information" about him at a party shortly after an emergency call at Szymanski's home on Nov. 21, 2020.

The breach of confidentiality caused "unnecessary stress, emotional distress, anxiety, fear and embarrassment" for Szymanski, who is seeking $200,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.

Also named as defendants are the Town of Cheektowaga and Tyler Rogala, the Bellevue volunteer accused of talking about Szymanski's medical condition at a party.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Erie County State Supreme Court, does not specify what the medical condition was, and Szymanski's attorney, Michael Dwan, declined to elaborate on it.

"It's confidential medical information," said Dwan. "It's almost irrelevant what exactly that information was. You obviously can't have firefighters or ambulance people or anybody else going into peoples' homes and then going to parties and talking about what they learned. That's obviously not OK."

Bellevue Fire District Commissioner James Havernick declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Court papers said Szymanski's father, Martin, gave members of the Bellevue Fire Department confidential medical details about his son "in order to address the medical emergency at hand."

As a member of the fire department, Rogala had a duty to keep that information confidential, per the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, court papers said.

Instead, Rogala discussed Szymanski's confidential medical information with one or more people at a party shortly after the emergency call, court papers allege.

Dwan said Martin Szymanski, who is a professional firefighter, was appalled that the medical information he passed along was fodder for party conversation.

"It annoyed him tremendously that this happened, because he's received the proper training," said Dwan. "He knows what that training should be, and he knows what the standard of care is in terms of confidentiality."

Dwan said he suspected that Rogala was new to the fire department and not adequately trained on keeping medical information private.

"Before a fire department brings anybody in on a call, they need to be read the riot act in terms of confidentiality," he said.

The lawsuit accuses the fire company of negligence in allowing the medical information to get out and of failing to notify Szymanski about the confidentiality breach, as required by HIPAA.

The medical condition that prompted the call to the Bellevue Fire Department last November "has subsided," and Szymanski, a college student, was doing very well, said Dwan.

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(c)2021 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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