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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals is considering a privacy lawsuit initially filed in 2020 by an Alexandria woman against Community Hospital Anderson.

The case traces to 2019, when a Fox 59 (WXIN-TV) reporter received a tip that some of the hospital’s patient medical records could be accessed by the public in a possible violation of privacy regulations.

The reporter used publicly available sources, including a hamlike radio and translation software, to link into the hospital’s pager system. The system updated doctors about daily schedule changes and included patients’ names, ages and medical procedures to be performed, among other information.

The reporter intercepted 354 patient names, according to court documents. The reporter contacted one of the patients, Brittany Rubendall, of Alexandria, and related some of Rubendall’s personal information. Rubendall declined an interview with the reporter, who later left Fox 59. The story never aired.

Since then, Community Hospital has reportedly upgraded its system to use encrypted messaging devices.

However, Rubendall sued the hospital for negligence, intrusion and public disclosure of private facts, a claim recently recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court as being within the realm of invasion of privacy.

The hospital is fighting the lawsuit, saying in part that Rubendall’s damages are solely emotional and don’t fit the courts’ definition of negligence.

Also, the hospital claims the information was communicated to only one person — the reporter — and not the “public.” Communicating such information to a small group of people is not actionable for a lawsuit, the hospital’s attorneys maintain.

But Rubendall differs.

“How many people does it take for somebody’s private information to get out and to be a breach of privacy?” she asked in an interview with The Herald Bulletin. “In my eyes, one person that gets my personal health information is one person too many.”

The lawsuit was filed in June 2020 in Madison County.

Last September, Madison Circuit Court 6 Judge Mark Dudley granted summary judgment against Rubendall and in favor of Community Hospital, ruling that a claim of intrusion needed to involve a direct physical impact or injury to satisfy the “impact rule.”

He also decided there was “no evidence that the public knew or that the public was sure to know Rubendall’s private information.”

Rubendall’s attorney, Neal F. Eggeson of Fishers, appealed Dudley’s ruling. The Indiana Court of Appeals heard the case Thursday; a decision will come later.

In a legal brief, Eggeson wrote, “As a practical matter, medical privacy in Indiana now teeters on the brink of extinction.”

One of the appellate judges hearing the appeal, Judge Robert R. Altice Jr., asked whether ruling in favor of Rubendall’s appeal would open the “floodgates” to similar privacy rights cases.

“Absolutely,” Jenny Buchheit, an attorney representing the hospital, responded, “If we keep eking away with exceptions and exceptions and exceptions, at what point do we completely slide down the hill.”

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