Lawsuit names former worker

Gary Kean
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First class-action suit filed in St. John’s

Lawyer Scott Burden of Brothers and Burden Law Office in Corner Brook is representing clients affected by the privacy breach at Western Health.

CORNER BROOK — A second class-action lawsuit has been filed in relation to privacy breaches at Western Health, but this time the former employee accused of the violations has also been named as a defendant.

The class-action lawsuit naming both Western Health and Donna Colbourne, the clerk who was terminated from her position because she accessed the personal information of 1,043 patients, was filed by lawyer Scott Burden in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in Corner Brook last Friday.

This is the second class-action lawsuit filed against Western Health. Bob Buckingham, a lawyer based in St. John's, filed a class-action lawsuit earlier this month on behalf of others who have had their information accessed and named Barbara Hynes of Corner Brook as the representative plaintiff.

The legal action filed by Buckingham, however, did not name Colbourne as a defendant.

"In the event that the hospital were to deny liability based on the employee acting outside the scope of her duties, we had to name her," Burden said Tuesday of the reason why Colbourne was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit he filed.

Colbourne could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The latest lawsuit named two representative plaintiffs, Valerie Dyke and Catherine Allen-Vater, who both received letters from Western Health informing them their privacy had been breached.

Burden said his firm has a list of about 200 people who have received letters and are part of the class action.

The statement of claim filed by Burden gives a glimpse into the effect the privacy breaches have had on the representative plaintiffs.

Allen-Vater called the number provided on the registered letter she received from Western Health, but was told the breaches were too numerous to be discussed over the phone. She was later sent another letter from Western Health that included a printout of 18 dates on which her file had been accessed inappropriately.

The letter indicated there had been multiple breaches on some of the dates noted.

The court document stated that Allen-Vater "has been traumatized by the experience" and that she "was fearful as to the possible uses her information may have been used and the possible consequences of the many breaches of her privacy."

The statement of claim described Dyke as being "in a state of shock" and "infuriated" when she was first notified of the breach of her personal records. She also felt that Colbourne "targeted her specifically" and said she "is very nervous and upset over what the purpose of the access may have been."

The court document described the actions of Colbourne as "malicious as she knowingly accessed" information she was not authorized to access. It alleged that Colbourne's actions constitute a tort of violation of privacy as stated in the Privacy Act and Section 35(2) of the Hospitals Act.

The statement of claim accused Western Health of being "negligent" and said its conduct "fell below the reasonable standard of care that is expected of an organization trusted with the private information of patients." It asserts that Western Health "was wilfully blind" and should be held "vicariously liable" for Colbourne's actions.

"(Western Health), by not having proper monitoring procedures in place, displayed a systematic failure which resulted in an inexcusable privacy breach of a large number of people," read the statement of claim.

The plaintiffs also want to know the answers to questions not provided by Western Health in its registered letter to the 1,043 affected patients.

"In the letter, (Western Health) provided no explanation as to how the breach was able to occur, how (Colbourne) was able to access so many patient records inappropriately over an extended period of time and why the audit only consisted of an 11-month period," stated the claim.

The damages being sought through the lawsuit will be assessed through the court action and there are no dollar amounts specified in the documents.

No defence by either Western Health or Colbourne has yet been filed in response to the statement of claim.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Western Health's communications manager Tara Pye, said in an email that "at this point, Western Health has not yet received the second statement of claim. We will speak to the matter after we have received and had the opportunity to review it.

"We take our responsibility as the custodians of an individual's personal health information very seriously and we do have measures in place to protect personal health information. We will be happy to follow up with people on an individual basis about any specific concerns they may have."


Organizations: Supreme Court, Hospitals Act.The

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Western Health Employee
    August 29, 2012 - 22:13

    It's not western health's fault that one of their employees abused their privileges . Every employee at western health has to sign a confidentiality agreement. You are agreeing that you will use your privileges to aid in patient care. Being nosey is not aiding in patient care...

    • Shawn
      August 31, 2012 - 12:44

      ....and Western Health Corp. did/does not have industry standard auditing systems for such transgressions, and they didn't make use of the system that is in place until news of Eastern Health's situation broke. I'm willing to bet that if a forensic data recovery team were hired to audit their entire system, they would find many, many more breeches had happened for many years by many employees. What is going on today is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to privacy and security issues with Crown Corps and many other arms of Government agencies on both Provincial and Federal levels. These law suits are not only about money, they are about fixing what is broken, and you can expect many more in the future.

  • wow
    August 29, 2012 - 18:10

    I have to say you guys need to think out of the money box! Its things like this that makes it ok for people to breach your privacy! I have had mine breached 3 times and my childrens 4 times and my deceast parents was breached numerous of times! If you do not take action it will happen again! We can not sit back and ride this out, because if we do nothing will ever become of it! Yes some people are looking at a settlement while others are hopping that the justice system will prevail! Everyone has their rights and your privacy is one! Go look in the charter book of rights! You think that if this was done to some famous person in hollywood they would do nothing about it, they would sue the pants off them! Yes we may all know her name some may know her as others dont! I just want one question answered why? What did she have to benifet from this? Why my deceast parent?Why my 3 children? Why me? I dont her from the man on the moon nor do I want to! But lest rest assure justice will be served in some kind of way! Yes she lost her job boohoo, alot of people lost alot more than that sue to her actions! I will be very scetchy on trusting the health system again. I dont know what her right was doing this or what she has planned to do with the info? But I do know what she looked at on my files found out today and that was very personal to me, it was none of her bussiness! When I spoke with westernhealth they said that she did have acccess to all files, and that was a part of her job! Dont they have to sign some kind of clause or a privacy agreement? I know that I phoned in the hospital on something and I was no able to access my parents file because I was not the next of kin, Really? But she can access it?BS..I get so dumbfounded and annoyed with people like that! Who can ya trust lard gees

    • Annoyed
      August 30, 2012 - 14:35

      I agree completely. I also received a letter as did other members of my immediate family and a circle of family friends. Unfortunately most people think that we are only out to make money. However that is not the case. At least for me and my family. We know the person who did this and why we were targeted but what we want out of the lawsuit is to know how this was allowed to happen in the first place and how to change things so that it doesn't happen again. Not to make a few bucks. I for one am very happy that her identity was revealed. It honestly made my day.

  • bill
    August 29, 2012 - 13:37

    Corner Brooker: The employee was fired and everyone now knows who she is. She has been dealt with. Its quite obvious you have received a letter and are part of the lawsuit looking for a few bucks. Where do you think this money is coming? It will end up being an expense of the taxpayers. I have family and friends who received a letter and they wouldn't take this opportunity to cash in like you would. Get a tissue and dry your eyes.

  • Corner Brooker
    August 29, 2012 - 11:01

    What real harm was done Bill? well obviously you never received a letter now did you? You have no right to say that unless you my love had your privacy breached! We, as citizens, go to the hospital for PRIVACAY!!! Do you fools not understand that? and that privacy was breached! If these people want to take action, then by all means, go right ahead! Mabe, just mabe western health will buck up and spend some dollars on the computer systems! nevermind paying out big corporate payouts to CEO's who we don't even hear tell of! back up the computer systems so this do not happen again! And for those of you who never received a letter, you do not know what was found out, nor what she did with this information! So until you know all the facts of the matter, mabe you shouldn't be so quick to judge! Personally, I think its time the people stood up and demanded something get done about this!

  • My Two Cents Worth
    August 29, 2012 - 10:09

    I am sure that there are many more employees in businesses of all sorts that snoop patient files or anything that they can learn of someone. These people who fail to follow their pledge should not only be accountable by a judge, but also to their employer. Who can you trust these days? Privacy issues need to be taken more seriously by both employee and employer to protect ones rights. If someone struck your car you would want them to pay for the damage, so this is very similar to me. Too many people have access to information that is none of their business but just want to make it theirs.

  • Unbelievable
    August 29, 2012 - 10:07

    Vicarious Liability!! I realize the employer has responsiblilty but at the end of the day it is the EMPLOYEE who did wrong. It is the EMPLOYEE who bears the most of the blame. I am NOT part of the government nor do I work for the government but boy, this is taking things to the ridiculous. The EMPLOYEE broke the LAW. It is the law and lawyers who have taken our country to the brink of lawlessness. Someone breaks into your home, you are to blame if you harm them. You protect your family, your home, your possessions, boy, you better make sure that who ever is "breaking the law" does not get hurt cause the lawyers will have a field day. Whatever happened to "your word is your bond"? Put the blame where the blame is and let them take full responsibility. Bleeding hearts-poor thing: bad family, terrible upbringing, drugs, alcohol!!! Excuses, Excuses. Wake up. Take responsibility and make restitution. Grow up.

    • Jack
      August 29, 2012 - 11:02

      I know what Ms. Colbourne did was wrong and out of line, and in my opinion, she should bear responsibility for this mess. Unfortunately, even if Donna Colbourne and Western Health did break the law, its not how it always works due to Vicarious Liability. I also agree that lawyers have gone too far over the years enforcing the law, and using it to crush law abiding citizens. These days, they even have more power than elected governments.

  • bill
    August 29, 2012 - 08:37

    I havent received a letter and I dont work for western health. I think this lawsuit is ridiculous and all partys involved are looking for a payout. The employee was wrong to do it but come on and grow up. What real harm was done. The complaintants didnt lose there jobs or anything else. Move on with your lives.

    • Christina
      August 29, 2012 - 20:32

      True Bill,this lady should be thrown the book at for doin this. I don't believe western health should be fined,things leaked through a loop hole figure of speach and I'm sure western health will come up with a system setup that this will never happen again. If western health gets fines then us as a tax payer will pay for it,so come on guys lets make sure this lady gets what she deserves and teach her a lesson and let other ppl in he health care that has access know that if they attempt to do the same then. Big price they I'll have to pay.

  • tINA
    August 29, 2012 - 07:26

    JACk: Are you freakin serious right now? You dont support targeting the employee? Why should her privacay be protected after she violated so many others! And for the record...I am not an individual who received a letter...Yet...

    • Jack
      August 29, 2012 - 09:21

      Tina, I'm not supporting Donna Colbourne in any way. While what Donna did was clearly wrong as she violated individual privacy rights for no legitimate reason such as an emergency, its Western Health that should bear some or even most of the responsibility for the privacy breach because the law says so. That's because the laws state that an employer is vicariously liable for an employee's actions. Vicarious Liability means that if you're in an Administrative or Managerial Position, if one of your employees did something wrong but Management did nothing wrong, Management or the organization are responsible for their wrong doing. That said, Donna Colbourne and Western Health are both guilty; however, at the end of the day, its Western Health that bears most of the blame due to Vicarious Liability.

  • Jack
    August 29, 2012 - 06:26

    While I support the class action suit, I don't support targeting the employee involved as the employer should take responsibility due to the concept of Vicarious Liability.

    • Western Health Employee
      August 29, 2012 - 22:13

      It's not western health's fault that one of their employees abused their privileges . Every employee at western health has to sign a confidentiality agreement. You are agreeing that you will use your privileges to aid in patient care. Being nosey is not aiding in patient care...