There is an interesting story out of Washington state where a Washington state psychologist has been suspended from practice after a prostitute took off with his laptop containing files on 652 clients. Dr. Sunil Kakar, 46, reportedly left his computer with the prostitute while he ran out to an ATM machine. The computer was reportedly left as “collateral” for payment for the prostitute.
Worse yet, Kakar failed to report the theft for four days to his office and waited another week before informing police. As a result, these highly confidential files were left in the hands of unknown individuals. Putting aside his ethical duties with regard to confidentiality, he was required to report the theft under his contract with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The computer was eventually located and police found that he had downplayed the number of patient files.
Kakar sent a letter to clients asking them to try to trust him again, acknowledging that “it may cause concern, embarrassment and inconvenience . . . [and] I take client confidentiality very seriously.”
Kakar does not appear to have been charged criminally. However, he will be suspended until the professional charges are resolved.
The question is his possible liability to patients. Since they were likely unaware until the news story of the theft, it is not clear how much emotional distress could be claimed, particularly if there is no evidence of files being opened. However, if they are unsure of whether such a breach occurred, there could be a claim for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, many of his clients appear to have been (at least in the past) prisoners, making this a more difficult legal claim from a practical standpoint. However, Kakar’s clients appear now to include non-prisoners.
Notably, the day that police were informed, the computer was located.
This is not the first discipline for Kakar. According to this article, Kakar worked as a psychologist for the Department of Corrections in April 2011 and was disciplined after “he refused to leave an area where a prisoner was to be strip-searched.” The article says that he then “took food from a prisoner, then jumped on a counter and ate it.” He was allegedly also admitted by a relative to a mental-health facility and later released with a recommendation for a chemical-dependency evaluation. He has also been arrested for driving under the influence and marijuana possession. That is quite a record and yet still be employed by the state as a psychologist. A lawsuit against the state for retaining such professionals can be hindered by immunity issues and waiver issues.
The question is whether he will now face a more significant penalty by the state board.