The New York Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that ABC remained not liable in a five million dollar lawsuit brought by the Anita Chanko, the widow of Mark Chanko. Mr. Chanko was struck by a garbage truck in 2011 and rushed to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for emergency treatment, during which he died of a heart attack. The suit turns on ABC’s airing of a recording made of Mr. Chanko’s emergency treatment, which captured doctors discussing amputations and attempting to stem abdominal bleeding before declaring him dead and communicating that news to his family.
The suit, which names ABC, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and doctor Sebastian Schubl, alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy for the 2011 recording and 2012 airing of Mark Chanko’s death for the ABC television show “NY Med.” Although Chanko’s face was blurred out and his name never mentioned, his widow alleged intense emotional pain as a result of accidentally seeing the broadcast. Moreover, neither ABC nor the hospital ever received permission from the dying man to record or broadcast his death.
The lawsuit had been previously struck down in court, but was partially revived by the appellate decision. Judge Leslie Stein characterized ABC’s actions as unfortunate and unpleasant, even perhaps unintentionally cruel, but not bad enough to meet the legal standard required. The court nevertheless found that the suit provided enough of a warrant for the breach of confidentiality owed to Chanko by his physician and the hospital for that part of the suit to meet the legal standard. The complaint against Schubl and the hospital will thus go forward.
The family’s attorney, Norman Olch, indicated that the family viewed the appellate ruling as a great victory for patients and for patient rights, as the lawsuit proceeding would send a strong message to hospitals and physicians. Partially as a result of the lawsuit and ensuing controversy the Greater New York Hospital Association has forbidden the filming of patients without their consent for the purposes of entertainment. Queens Democrat and State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein has also proposed legislation which would make it a felony in New York State to record patients without having previously received consent from them.