Twelve patients have filed a $50-million suit against a health care organization that suffered a data breach

07 February 2013

Twelve patients have filed a $50-million class action suit against the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System alleging that it was negligent in allowing their confidential information to be stolen.

In April, law enforcement officials revealed that an identity theft ring had stolen data from more than 100 patients at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. The information was contained on “face sheets,” the top sheets to a patient’s hospital file that contain the person’s name, address, date of birth, phone numbers and Social Security number. The health system first learned of the thefts in spring 2011, according to spokesman Terry Lynam.

A member of the ring, Clincy M. Robinson of Brooklyn, was convicted in December of identity theft and sentenced to 6 months time served and 5 years’ probation after he was found with printouts containing North Shore-LIJ patient information.

North Shore-LIJ sent letters between 2011-2012 to about 200 patients whose identities may have been compromised, offering them a year of free credit monitoring, and set up a hotline, Lynam said.

But the lawyer for the 12 patients, Bonita Zelman of New Hyde Park, said that was too little, too late. “The heart of this is the risk to patients at North Shore-LIJ,” she said. Speaking for the 12 patients she represents and others, she said: “For the rest of their lives, North Shore-LIJ made them vulnerable to these thieves.”

She charged that up to 4 million patients — the number of “patient contacts” listed in North Shore-LIJ’s 2011 annual report — could have been susceptible to identity theft. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Queens, seeks $50 million in punitive damages and an unspecified amount for actual damages.

The suit also alleges that North Shore-LIJ didn’t inform patients for a year after it was made aware of a possible information breach.

Lynam said the health system learned of the thefts “primarily through law enforcement” and informed patients “promptly.” He said the system has been changed and there have been no breaches in 11 months since new safeguards were put in place.

Paulette Schramm of Manhasset, a plaintiff in the suit, said she was in North Shore at the end of April 2011. Several weeks later, she learned that close to $8,000 was charged on her credit cards. She said she never got a letter from North Shore-LIJ and that when she tried to tell the hospital system about the security breach, “they denied it.”

“For the rest of my life, I have a monkey on my shoulder,” she said.

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