California hospital hit with lawsuit after secretly recording 1,800 surgeries

A former patient filed a proposed class-action lawsuit April 17 against San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare and one of its hospitals after motion-activated cameras placed in operating rooms filmed more than 1,800 patients during surgeries without their consent.

Sharp HealthCare officials said the cameras were installed on anesthesia carts used in the operating rooms at La Mesa, Calif.-based Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Women's Health Center as part of an investigation into whether an employee was stealing drugs.

In a public statement issued April 4, Sharp HealthCare President and CEO Chris Howard said the cameras were used from July 2012 to June 2013. Patients who underwent surgeries during that time were recorded without consent.

"Although the cameras were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts, others, including patients and medical personnel in the operating rooms, were at times visible to the cameras and recorded without sound," Mr. Howard said.

Amber Snodgrass, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed against Sharp this week, gave birth by caesarean section on Dec. 24, 2012, in an operating room at Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Women's Health Center. Based on Mr. Howard's statement, she alleges she was secretly recorded during her procedure.

"Plaintiff did not consent and would not have consented to being recorded during this procedure, has suffered severe emotional distress upon learning of this gross invasion of privacy, and has been damaged as a result of the defendants' actions," states the federal complaint.

In his public statement, Mr. Howard apologized and said steps have been taken to ensure a similar situation doesn't occur in the future.

"We sincerely apologize that our efforts may have caused any distress to the women who were recorded, their families, and others we serve," he said. "We can assure you this surveillance method is no longer in use, and we have made changes in our protocols to ensure this situation is not repeated."

Ms. Snodgrass filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and all women who underwent surgical procedures in the Women's Health Center between July 17, 2012, and June 30, 2013. According to the complaint, the value of the potential class claims exceeds the $5 million threshold required for lawsuits under the federal Class Action Fairness Act.

This is not the first lawsuit filed against Sharp over the recordings. An initial lawsuit alleging privacy violations and other claims stemming from the video recordings was filed in 2016. In March, 81 women filed a lawsuit against Sharp, alleging several types of operations were recorded on the hidden cameras, including hysterectomies, sterilizations and caesarean births. The cameras also allegedly recorded women undressing.

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