Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prince William Hospital Settles Identity Theft Suit

According to Thursday's Potomac News, the Prince William County Hospital has settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who had her financial identity stolen by a hospital worker.

The hospital was implicated because a woman hired from a temp agency to do billing record work for the hospital had previously been convicted of identity theft.

According to the paper:

In June 2003, Sloane gave birth to a son at Prince William Hospital.

A few months later, a woman working in the hospital's billing department lifted Sloane's Social Security number from hospital records and used it open several credit accounts, running up thousands of dollars in debt in Sloane's name.

The identity thief, a temp worker named Shovana Sloan, had previous convictions for identity theft and was on probation at the time she was working at the hospital, according to the lawsuits.

The Sloane family has obviously suffered greatly, as their credit scores were ruined and still have not been restored. It seems they were remarkably unfortunate, as the convict picked them out of all the hospital patients simply because of the similarity in their last names (Sloane/Sloan).

The hospital has denied any responsibility. They did not have a policy of reviewing criminal records at the time they hired the woman, but now they do.

A person who has served their time for a crime should be able to earn a living, but it does not seem unreasonable for a company to restrict hiring of people whose crime was in the field of employment. In this case it would seem a reasonable precaution not to give a person convicted of identity theft a job which provides access to confidential financial information.

But I am uncomfortable with holding the hospital responsible for not checking the woman's background, as they hired her through a temp agency that should have done the checks. Also, not every harm should require payment. Of course, the woman should pay for her crime, but since the woman has no money, the victims can't really sue her and collect the big dollars.

The Sloane family still has a lawsuit pending against the three major credit agencies. Again from the article:

More than two years after her Social Security number was stolen, Suzanne Sloane's credit score was still hundreds of points less than it was prior to the identity theft, the couple said in January.

After innumerable phone calls and letters yielded little progress toward restoring Suzanne's credit, she and her husband, John, filed a lawsuit in November against the country's three major credit reporting companies.

The couple's $45 million lawsuit against Experian, Trans Union and Equifax accuses the credit reporting agencies of lacking a mechanism to repair the credit scores of identity theft victims.

The suit also names Citifinancial, one of the creditors Shovana Sloan opened an account with in Suzanne Sloane's name.

This suit has more merit. If the credit agencies have harmed the Sloane's by not responding rationally to this circumstance, even after the perpetrator has been convicted in court, a lawsuit may be just what we need to make them more responsive.

That said, I still think the idea that you can file lawsuits against several different defendants, and collect based on their ability to pay rather than based on how much they were rationally culpable for the harm, is a flaw in our system that encourages lawyers to seek out victims to use against big-pocket companies.

In this case, they snared a non-profit hospital.
No trial date has been set for the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court.

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