Class action lawsuit filed against two Puerto Rican hospitals for alleged ransomware attacks

Two of Hospital Pavía's facilities were hit by a ransomware attack. (Flickr/ Paul Sabelman)

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A class action lawsuit was filed earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico against two hospitals for what plaintiffs are calling “reckless and negligent violation of patient privacy rights” in light of alleged ransomware attacks that hit the hospitals last year.

The alleged ransomware attacks, which took place in February last year at the Pavía Hospital Santurce and Pavía Hospital Hato Rey hospitals, affected 305,737 people, according to Department of Health and Human Services records. The plaintiffs, both former patients of the hospitals, allege patients’ personal identifying information, including full names, addresses, dates of birth, gender, financial information, and social security numbers, were exposed as a result of the attacks. These records also constitute protected health information as designated by HIPAA.

“These patients reasonably expect the highest level of protection for their private identifiable information, when giving highly sensitive information such as their Social Security numbers and medical information to medical providers and insurers,” the complaint says. “What these patients do not expect, and did not expect, was that their personal and sensitive information would be harvested by unauthorized individuals.”

Although the plaintiffs allege that their “patient information was stolen,” it was not immediately clear if the patients’ information had been stolen, or whether the ransomware attacks had just encrypted computers and demanded ransom to decrypt them.

Hospital Pavía told a local news outlet last year that it found no patient information was impacted by the attack.

Increasingly, ransomware attacks are being used in concert with attempts to steal data, and not just as a way to steal money, according to Recorded Future.

“If a ransomware attacker is sitting in your network for weeks before encrypting the first machine, that gives them ample time to exfiltrate gigabytes’ worth of data, as we have repeatedly seen,” Allan Liska, a senior threat intelligence analyst at Recorded Future, said in a ransomware analysis report released today.

‘Compensable damages’

As a result of the alleged ransomware attacks, the plaintiffs argue they have suffered “compensable damages” because they have been forced to purchase identity monitoring services to guard against identity theft, or hackers dumping and selling their information online. The victims are at “imminent, immediate and continuing risk of further identity theft-related harm,” the complaint says.

They are seeking an amount they suggest be determined at trial; costs of the lawsuit, litigation and attorneys’ fees; and injunctive relief so that the hospitals maintain “reasonable security procedures” to protect PII from unauthorized access or disclosure.

‘Wanton disregard for security’

The hospitals failed to properly protect victims’ PII, the complaint claims.

“The exposure of Plaintiffs’ and Class Members’ PII to unauthorized third-party hackers was a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ failure to properly safeguard and protect Plaintiffs’ and Class Members’ PII from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure, as required by their contracts with Plaintiffs and the Class Members, and federal law,” the complaint alleges. “Defendants acted with wanton disregard for the security of Plaintiffs’ and the Class Members’ PII.”

The plaintiffs also take issue with how quickly the hospitals notified victims of the ransomware attack, according to the complaint. The hospitals reported the incident on April 13, 2019, according to HHS records. But the plaintiffs allege they were only notified in June.

According to HHS and HIPAA, individuals must be notified in case of a breach “without unreasonable delay and in no case later than 60 days following the discovery of a breach.”

Defendants Metro Santurce, Inc., which owns Pavía Hospital Santurce, and Metro Hato Rey, Inc., which owns Pavía Hospital Hato Rey, did not return requests for comment.

The incidents occurred prior to two other medical facilities in Puerto Rico — Bayamón Medical Center and Puerto Rico Women and Children’s Hospital — being hit with ransomware. Those attacks, which occurred in May 2019, impacted more than half a million patients.

You can read the lawsuit below or here.

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health care, hospitals, lawsuit, personally identifiable information, PII, ransomware
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