Last Friday, 81 women filed a lawsuit against a San Diego hospital for allegedly recording them during intimate medical procedures without their knowledge or consent. Women were filmed during Caesarean births, birth complications, treatment after a miscarriage, and other operations, according to the lawsuit. This week, 50 additional women joined the complaint against Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
“The addition of 50 plaintiffs to the lawsuit demonstrates that Sharp’s misconduct affected a significant number of women in a deep and harmful way,” Allison H. Goddard, their attorney, told Gizmodo in an email.
“We expect to add more plaintiffs in the near future, since many women are just learning they were secretly recorded by Sharp. Sharp could have, but did not, inform the women directly about the secret recordings, so we will continue to work very hard to make sure that every woman affected is aware of her legal rights.”
Hundreds of more women could be added to the complaint, given the southern California hospital secretly recorded about 1800 patients from around July 2012 through June 2013, according to the lawsuit.
Sharp said in a statement that it installed the hidden cameras in three Labour and Delivery operating rooms at its Women’s Center in 2012 in what the hospital claims was an effort to figure out if an employee was stealing anaesthesia drugs and equipment from the carts.
These cameras had motion-detecting sensors, so they would start recording whenever someone entered an operating room, according to the lawsuit.
“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,” the hospital said in its statement. We reached out to Sharp for further comment but had not heard back at time of writing.
The cameras were installed in a way that captured the faces of the female patients, who were recorded “conscious and unconscious, partially robed on operating room tables, undergoing medical procedures and communicating with their doctors and medical personnel,” the lawsuit states.
“Because of the nature of these procedures, the recordings captured women while they were emotionally and physically exposed, and at their most vulnerable. At times, Defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible.”
The lawsuit also states that the hospital was “grossly negligent” in how it kept the recordings — they were allegedly stored on desktop computers that many people were able to access; some didn’t even require a password.
Sharp also didn’t keep any records on who viewed the recordings and for what purpose, but did claim that it scrubbed “at least half” of them, according to the lawsuit, without any details on when or how.
In its statement, the hospital said, “The videos in our possession are kept in a secured safe in our Security Department.” Sharp said it also shared the videos with third parties in response to legal complaints.
“It’s horrifying to think that, especially in today’s day and age of the ubiquity of videos on the internet, if one of those videos were to get in the wrong hands, there’s no controlling it,” Goddard told CNN. “It takes your own medical care outside your own control.”
The now 131 women are suing the hospital for breach of fiduciary duty, invasion of privacy, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and unlawful recording of confidential information.
“It was a highly stressful and emotional time for my family and my doctor,” Melissa Escalera, who says she was secretly recorded in September 2012 during her daughter’s emergency C-section, told NBC San Diego. “No one ever asked me to record one of my most tender, life-changing moments. I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment.”