Plaintiff “John Smith” brought a civil action against Dr. Arvind R. Datla and Consultants in Kidney Disease in a New Jersey court claiming that Datla, a nephrologist, improperly revealed that the plaintiff (patient) was HIV-positive to another individual without consent. The plaintiff was being treated for kidney failure at the time when the defendant allegedly told a friend of Smith's about his HIV status, a potential disclosure violation according to the Aids Assistance Act.
The suit was filed almost two years after the occurrence in Mercer County Superior Court, citing a violation of common law privacy rights, improper disclosure, and medical malpractice. The defendant argued that the suit should be subject to dismissal based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations that applies to claims for defamation. Smith maintained that the claim was similar to a personal injury action and should have a two-year statute of limitations.
The claim further explained that the defendant exhibited negligence, willful and reckless behavior that resulted in pain, suffering, distress, and physiological problems. The formal action cited the following causes:
- His privacy was invaded through disclosing confidential information
- That the disclosure was improper under the medical malpractice statutes
- A violation of the Aids Assistance Act
The plaintiff sought monetary damages, payment of legal fees, and interest, but chose not to pursue punitive damages. Courts in New Jersey had not formally determined the statute of limitations based on improper disclosure, which the defense contended was classified as a form of defamation. The plaintiff did confirm that he was HIV-positive and that Datla was made aware of that fact.
Applicable Statute of Limitations
The limitation standards in the state were designed to be reasonable and to encourage that litigation is handled efficiently. The legislature sought to avoid stale claims and procrastination, while serving as a defined measure for repose. Claims in New Jersey which seek damages for injuries incurred by an individual have a two-year statute of limitations, while defamation claims must be filed within one-year after an expression of libel or slander. Claims associated with privacy invasion based on intrusion are subject to the two-year limitation.
The court found that defamation was not an appropriate cause in the case, thus a two-year statute of limitations was applicable. Judge Richard Geiger found that defamation is based on a statement or disclosure that is false, which was not the case in this matter. He further concluded that patients have a right to privacy under the Aids Assistance Act to further the proper treatment for those who are HIV-positive. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, who according to public policy and societal interests has a basic right to privacy.