CORNER BROOK — People impacted by a breach in patient privacy at Western Health could become part of a class-action lawsuit against the health authority.
Scott Burden, a lawyer with Brothers and Burden Law Office in Corner Brook, is currently taking on clients affected by the breach.
Burden told The Western Star a decision on whether or not to proceed with a class-action lawsuit will be made within the next couple of months.
"For us, it's right now a process of collecting information, doing our research, determining whether or not an action is viable and in all likelihood we'll be doing something for the people," said Burden.
He added the extent to which action is taken will be determined by the firm's clients.
"What it all boils down to is: Is this going to be worth people's time to get involved."
Burden said the first question is going to be what are an individual's damages.
"For any lawsuit to be viable you have to look at what damages are recoverable for somebody. And I would think in any case the damages are going to depend on the effect this breach of privacy has had on the person's life."
He said some people may not be bothered by the incident and will just want to forget it happened.
"But there's other people, and I've had discussions with people who have highly sensitive information they don't want disclosed to anybody."
He used an example of a person who had a loved one die at the hospital only who find out that person's records had been accessed during that time.
"And you can see how that might really affect somebody a little more than another, and so the damages could be more extensive for one than another."
As to who a lawsuit could be directed at, Burden said generally the procedure is to take a "wide brush." In this case that at least means Western Health and potentially individual people who may fall under the Western Health banner, and possibly the clerk fired for inappropriately accessing the 1,043 files.
As to the identity of the fired clerk, Burden said he thinks it's going to be very difficult for the information to be kept private.
"I think people around town know. So as much as this person's identity has been protected to a certain extent, people know who it is. I know who it is.
"The truth of it is where we live in a small town word travels fast and I think everyone knows."
And Burden said he feels badly for that person.
"You don't want to see anything bad happen to anybody, but you live with the consequences of your actions."
For the time being the case is being handled on a contingency basis. That means there is no cost to clients unless they collect.
Burden said the firm will take on anybody who has an interest in the case as capping it a certain number would be wrong.
"It's a pretty massive undertaking," he said.
"It's going to be interesting. It's going to be an experience and it's a chance to help an awful lot of people."
Anyone interested in more information can contact Brothers and Burden by calling 639-3400.