Monday, February 13, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms Finding of No Duty Owed in Data Breach Case

In its recent decision in the case of Dittman v. UPNC d/b/a The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, No. 971 WDA 2015 (Pa. Super. Jan. 12, 2017 Olson, J., Stabile, J., and Musammno, J.) (Op. by Olson, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the general question of whether a duty of care exists under the test set forth in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Althaus ex rel. Althaus v. Cohen, 756 A.2d 1166, 1169 (Pa. 2000).  The Dittman case involves an action for negligence and breach of contract against a medical center after an alleged data breach with regards to the medical center’s computer systems.  

The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the trial court did not err in finding that the medical center owed no duty to the Plaintiff under Pennsylvania law.   

The court also found that the trial court did not err in dismissing the Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims in the absence of any allegations that the medical center intended to enter into any contract to protect the Plaintiff’s personal information allegedly exposed during the data breach.  

In its Opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that, under the Althaus test, whether a duty exists is a question for the court to decide and, in so deciding, the following factors are to be considered:

1.         The relationship between the parties;

2.         The social utility of the actor’s conduct;

3.         The nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred;

4.         The consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and,

5.         The overall public interest in the proposed solution.

As stated, the court found that no duty existed under the circumstances presented in this matter.  

In its Opinion, the court also addressed the economic loss doctrine, which provides that no cause of action exists for negligence that results solely in economic damages unaccompanied by physical injury or property damage.  The court upheld the trial court’s decision that the Plaintiff was barred from recovering economic losses as the Plaintiff could not show that the Defendant breached any duty imposed by law.  

Anyone wishing to review the Opinion of Judge Olson issued in this matter may click this LINK. 

Judge Stabile’s Concurring Statement, in which Judge Olson joined, can be viewed at this LINK.  

Judge Musmanno’s dissenting statement can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention. 

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