FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
• Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, 215-587-9377
• Sally Friedman, Esq., Legal Action Center, 212-243-1313 Ext. 130
• Shanon J. Carson, Esq., Berger & Montague, P.C., 215-875-4656
• Torin A. Dorros, Esq., Dorros Law, 310-997-2050 email@example.com
PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 17, 2018) -- A $17 million settlement was announced
today in a federal class action lawsuit against Aetna, Inc., the third
largest health insurance company in the United States, after a faulty
mailing breached the HIV privacy of thousands of Aetna’s customers.
The announcement by plaintiffs’ attorneys comes six months after
Aetna, as part of a settlement of an earlier set of lawsuits, mailed a
notice in July 2017 in envelopes with large transparent windows that accidentally
revealed that the recipients were prescribed HIV medications. It is believed
to be the world’s largest data breach involving HIV privacy, and
many recipients have reported suffering significant harm as a result of
The papers filed in support of the settlement allege that Aetna improperly
transmitted to its legal counsel and a mail vendor the names 13,487 customers
who had been prescribed HIV medications and that large transparent window
envelopes revealing confidential HV-related information sent to 11,875 of them.
Among those who received the mailing were “Andrew Beckett,”
a Bucks County, Pa., man who was the lead plaintiff in the nationwide
class action lawsuit filed in August 2017 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia
by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the Legal Action Center, and
Berger & Montague, P.C., and “S.A.”, a Los Angeles County,
Ca. man who was the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit filed in
California by Dorros Law the same day as the Beckett case and which was
subsequently consolidated with the Beckett case. The plaintiffs include
people taking medication to treat HIV as well as those who, like Beckett,
take PrEP, a pre-exposure prophylactic that prevents HIV.
The case arose in response to calls of alarm from people throughout the
country who received the mailing or had heard about it. The lead plaintiff’s
pseudonym is that of the fictional lawyer with HIV portrayed by Tom Hanks
in his Academy Award-winning role in the 1993 movie
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, which is now subject to the
Court’s approval, Aetna has agreed to pay $17,161,200 to resolve
the claims. All Settlement Class Members will automatically receive a
Base Payment of either $75, to those whose protected health information
was allegedly improperly disclosed by Aetna to its legal counsel and mail
vendor, or the payment of at least $500 (inclusive of the $75 payment
above), to those whose privacy was breached by the large-windowed envelope,
whichever is applicable.
In addition, Settlement Class Members whose privacy was breached by the
large-windowed envelope have the opportunity to seek additional monetary
relief through the filing of a claim form documenting financial or non-financial harm.
The settlement also includes the implementation by Aetna of a new “best
practices” policy to prevent similar incidents from occurring in
the future, and provides for attorneys’ fees and expenses.
The settlement agreement and motion for preliminary approval can be found here:
Beckett, the lead plaintiff, expressed satisfaction with the settlement.
“HIV still has a negative stigma associated with it, and I am pleased
that this encouraging agreement with Aetna shows that HIV-related information
warrants special care,” he said.
Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the Philadelphia-based AIDS Law
Project of Pennsylvania, said that because stigma associated with HIV
is still pervasive, some people who received the mailing were forced from
their homes or suffered irreparable damages to relationships with friends,
relatives, and neighbors. “The fear of losing control of HIV-related
information and the resulting risk of discrimination are barriers to health
care,” Goldfein said. “This settlement reinforces the importance
of keeping such information private, and we hope it reassures people living
with HIV, or those on PrEP, that they do not have to choose between privacy
and health care.”
Sally Friedman, legal director of the New York City-based Legal Action
Center, said “the settlement provides a fair and just way to compensate
class members for their harm while also requiring practice changes to
prevent future breaches. The settlement’s magnitude will help restore
the dignity and voice of those affected.”
Shanon J. Carson, a managing shareholder of Berger & Montague, P.C.,
added that “not a day has gone by that I and my colleagues have
not paused to think about the individuals and their families who have
been affected by this breach, and we are glad that this settlement will
bring closure and a remedy to this situation.”
Torin A. Dorros, managing attorney of Dorros Law, which filed a subsequent
lawsuit in California over the issue, which was later consolidated with
Beckett’s lawsuit, called the outcome “a very significant
resolution for all those affected and a landmark settlement in the area
of protecting consumers’ health information and privacy.”
Founded in 1988, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (www.aidslawpa.org) is the nation’s only independent nonprofit, public-interest law
firm providing free legal services exclusively to people living with HIV and AIDS.
The Legal Action Center (www.lac.org) is the nation’s only nonprofit law and policy organization whose sole mission
is to fight discrimination against and protect the privacy rights of people
with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate
for sound public policies.
Berger & Montague, P.C. (www.bergermontague.com) is a class action
and complex civil litigation law firm based in Philadelphia and with offices
in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. The firm has played lead roles in
major cases for over 48 years, achieving recoveries of more than $30 billion
for its clients and the classes they have represented.
Dorros Law (www.dorroslaw.com) is a boutique litigation firm based in Beverly
Hills, Calif., with a significant practice devoted to representing individuals
in protected health information privacy violations.
Co-Lead Class Counsel in the case are: Ronda B. Goldfein, Yolanda French
Lollis, and Adrian M. Lowe of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania; Sally
Friedman, Monica Welby, and Karla Lopez of the Legal Action Center; Shanon
J. Carson, E. Michelle Drake, Sarah Schalman-Bergen, and John Albanese
of Berger & Montague, P.C.; and Plaintiffs’ and Class Counsel
includes Torin A. Dorros of Dorros Law.