Beaufort News

Personal injury suit brought against Hilton Head Hospital by former patient settled

Hilton Head Hospital has settled a federal lawsuit filed by a former patient who alleges her privacy was violated when a hospital employee showed photos of a wound on her leg to patrons at a Bluffton restaurant.

Shannon Berg of Hilton Head Island, was treated at the hospital in late 2009 for an infected tattoo on her upper right thigh, according to court documents. Her suit alleged that Jessica Nylund, a nursing student employed as a nursing assistant, made copies of the photos of the leg wound and showed them to a group at Jalapenos Mexican Restaurant in Bluffton. She alleges the hospital then failed to contact her about the breach, and it covered up the incident.

Berg, represented by John Bowen of Hilton Head, sought $150,000 in punitive damages for invasion of privacy in her suit filed April 20 against Nylund and the hospital. She also sought punitive damages of about $291,000 from the hospital for negligence, civil conspiracy and breach of contract.

Berg could not be reached for comment, and her attorney would not disclose the terms of the settlement. Attempts to reach attorneys for Nylund and Hilton Head Hospital were unsuccessful.

The case was dismissed July 8, according to court documents.

In an email Tuesday, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnellsaid hospital officials would not comment on the suit "due to the confidential nature of the issue."

According to the suit, on Jan. 12, 2010, Nylund took the photos to Jalapenos, where she showed them to a group that included a nurse at Hilton Head Hospital and the manager of the restaurant.

The next day, the manager called the hospital and reported the incident to a privacy officer and Nylund's supervisor, the suit said.

After the tip, the hospital investigated the incident and interviewed Nylund and the nurse from the restaurant, confirming the manager's report, the suit said. The hospital then told Nylund to delete the photos from her camera, but the suit alleged the hospital failed to notify Berg about the breach of privacy.

In August, the restaurant manager contacted Berg to ask whether the hospital had contacted her about the photos. Berg said she had not been and called the hospital Sept. 15, 2010, the suit alleged.

On Sept. 29, 2010, the hospital's privacy officer wrote to Berg and said the hospital had not known about the breach of privacy until Berg's call. A copy of the letter was included as evidence, according to court documents.

In her response, Nylund admitted to displaying a photo of Berg's wound at the restaurant and said she was interviewed by hospital supervisors, who told her to delete the photo from her phone.

Nylund, who has since married and changed her last name to Zanandrea, was fired from the hospital Sept. 17, 2010, according to court documents.

The hospital said in its response that the first call about the photo was an anonymous tip and it launched an investigation. Nylund initially denied it, but later said she used her cellphone to take a picture of one of the photographs, the response said.

Nylund said she showed the photo to nursing students and did not reveal Berg's identity, the response said. The hospital said it oversaw the removal of the photo from her phone and disciplined her. It determined she had not breached privacy laws because she didn't identify the patient.

When Berg called the hospital, a second investigation was conducted. Hospital officials spoke to the restaurant manager, whose identity had since been revealed, and he said Nylund showed the photos in the restaurant and named the patient.

The hospital confronted Nylund again, and she was fired, the response said. The hospital then contacted Berg and said she would receive written acknowledgment of the breach. The hospital also disclosed the incident to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to its response.

Follow reporter Cassie Foss at twitter.com/LcBlotter.

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