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Consequences of a Breach of Confidentiality

Updated April 13, 2017

Every attorney owes a duty of confidentiality. This duty obligates an attorney to keep client information confidential. One of the only times that an attorney can disclose confidential information to a third party is with the consent of the client. An attorney that discloses confidential information without consent or without the legal right to do so may be sued for legal malpractice, and the client may report the attorney to the state's bar association.

Legal Malpractice

Every attorney owes a duty of confidentiality. This duty obligates an attorney to keep client information confidential. One of the only times that an attorney can disclose confidential information to a third party is with the consent of the client. An attorney that discloses confidential information without consent or without the legal right to do so may be sued for legal malpractice, and the client may report the attorney to the state bar association.

Medical Malpractice

Like attorneys, doctors have a duty to keep certain information confidential. Doctor-patient confidentiality refers to both the information the patient reveals to the doctor and to the conclusions the doctor reaches while treating the patient. The duty applies to the doctor and the staff. Confidential information can be disclosed with the consent of the patient or if the law allows the disclosure. If a doctor discloses confidential information to an unauthorised person or without consent, a patient can sue for medical malpractice.

Breach of Contract

Sometimes the obligation to keep certain information a secret is a contractual duty. This is called a nondisclosure agreement or an NDA. Employers and companies commonly use NDAs when trade secrets are a large part of the business. The agreement commonly requires that the party given access to the information limit its use, not disclose it to others and not encourage others to obtain the secret information improperly. If the person violates the agreement, the other party may obtain a court order that prohibits the continued disclosure of the information. The violated party may also seek damages for breach of contract.

Damages

A court may award damages to the non-breaching party. Damages are intended to compensate a person for an injury. In a lawsuit involving the breach of confidentiality, it may be more difficult to quantify the injury. Consequently, in determining an award, a court may consider the loss the non-breaching party incurred by the wrongful disclosure of the information or, in the case of the disclosure of confidential proprietary information, the benefits the breaching party gained from the disclosure.

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About the Author

Jessica McElrath has been a freelance writer since 2000. McElrath is the author of "The Everything John F. Kennedy Book" and "The Everything Martin Luther King Jr. Book." McElrath has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California at Berkeley and a Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law.