Q&A: Threat of lawsuit

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From the Sullivan Daily Times:

Q: A family is upset with the newspaper because an obituary published a cause of death as a type of cancer that can result from a sexually transmitted disease.

Another member of the deceased’s family submitted the information. The unhappy family members made a threat of a lawsuit. Is there any liability in what the paper published? 

A: I don’t see the basis for a lawsuit.

The family can’t file a libel lawsuit because the victim is deceased. You can’t hurt the feelings of the dead.

The question of medical privacy is moot because the federal Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act covers medical providers, not family members.

While the newspaper doesn’t have any legal liability in the publication of the obituary, the staff might consider the extent of the facts it wants to include when there may be a stigma attached to a cause of death.

Just saying the death was the result of cancer without listing the type may have been a better course of action in this case.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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