Appeals ruling favors mother of slain Little Rock TV news anchor

Posted: February 9, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Anne Pressly is shown in this file photo.

Anne Pressly is shown in this file photo.

The mother of slain Little Rock television news anchor Anne Pressly may continue her lawsuit against a doctor and hospital workers accused of viewing the reporter's medical records, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

A 6-1 majority of the court affirmed the ruling of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson, who decided in 2016 that Little Rock's CHI St. Vincent Infirmary could not be held liable for the actions of workers there. However, the judge allowed Pressly's mother, Patricia Cannady, to proceed in her claims against the workers themselves.

According to Cannady's suit, a physician with admitting privileges at the hospital, Dr. Jay Holland, and two hospital workers, Sarah Miller and Candida Griffin, looked into Pressly's medical records as she lay dying at the hospital in 2008. The suit also said the workers had no legitimate reason to look at the records.

Pressly, an anchor for KATV, Channel 7, was fatally beaten in her Little Rock home that October, and died five days after being admitted to the hospital.

Each medical worker later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of privacy violation in federal court, and were given probation. Miller and Griffin were fired.

Cannady filed suit in 2009, alleging invasion of privacy and "outrageous conduct" by the workers and the hospital.

The first time the case reached the Supreme Court, in 2012, the justices ruled that Cannady could not make claims of invasion of privacy on behalf of her deceased daughter.

The high court however allowed Cannady to continue to pursue her claims of "outrage" in circuit court. Johnson later dismissed those claims against CHI St. Vincent, but not the workers.

The defendants cross-appealed Johnson's decision not to rule summarily on the case, but the high court on Thursday dismissed their claims.

The case is now set to go back to the circuit court a third time for trial.

"We're obviously disappointed that we're not going to be able to go ahead on the theory" that CHI St. Vincent is liable, said Gerry Schulze, an attorney for Cannady. "We will go to trial again with our remaining claims."

Schulze said Cannady is seeking monetary damages, but that her "real goal" is for the hospital to increase its security around patients' records and to set an example for hospital workers who have access to those records.

The latter goal, he said, has been partially achieved through the publicity of the case.

Justin Eisele, an attorney representing Griffin, one of the fired workers, said Pressly’s death was “sad,” but Cannady’s claims against those who viewed the records did not rise to meet the tort of outrage — defined in Arkansas as conduct “beyond all possible bounds of decency.”*

He noted that Griffin had not shared the records publicly. Like Schulze, he said he was also prepared to take the case to trial.

Meanwhile Pressly's killer, Curtis Vance, is serving a life-without-parole sentence for his crimes at the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker.

Metro on 02/09/2018

*CLARIFICATION: Justin Eisele, an attorney representing Griffin, one of the fired workers, said Pressly’s death was “sad,” but Cannady’s claims against those who viewed the records did not rise to meet the tort of outrage — defined in Arkansas as conduct “beyond all possible bounds of decency.” This article has been updated to clarify Eisele’s remarks.