Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Perhaps “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” is a person, my friend!

I got an email from an acquaintance in public health (one of few who will still admit it) suggesting why “naming, names” of companies that poison customers is less common in journals and other publications:

It is a long and “honored” custom to describe companies by anonymous designators in presentations and publications.

So, perhaps non-disclosure has become just the way things are done, or more aptly, not done.

Or, maybe the reason the CDC, FDA, and eight state health departments are still protecting the identity of “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” (a.k.a., Taco Bell) is because they feel that “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” deserves the same privacy protections under HIPAA as people do?

Perchance Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney had it right when he told an Iowa heckler, “corporations are people, my friend.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that corporations have a ‘legal personality’ for the purposes of conducting business while shielding individual stockholders from personal liability. A corporation is allowed to own property and enter contracts. It can also be sued and held liable under both civil and criminal law. Constitutional protections like privacy, equal protection, due process, religious freedom and free speech have also been granted to corporation to one degree or another. However, corporations have not yet acquired “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

On the face of it, the HIPAA Privacy Rule would not protect “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” from disclosure. The rule was designed to protect all “individually identifiable health information” held or transmitted by a covered entity or its business associate, in any form or media, whether electronic, paper, or oral. “Individually identifiable health information” is information, including demographic data, that relates to:

• the individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition,

• the provision of health care to the individual,

• the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual, and

• that identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe it can be used to identify the individual. Individually identifiable health information includes many common identifiers (e.g., name, address, birth date, Social Security Number).

It strikes me that if HIPAA were to be applied to corporations that arguably the “health” – financial or otherwise – of a corporation could be kept secret. I am not sure stockholders would appreciate being kept in the dark as to the “health’ of their investment. However, certainly the disclosure that “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A” poisoned a bunch of people could be considered harmful to the corporations “health.” Yet, I am not sure even our current “activist” Supreme Court can stretch things that far.

So, I still am at a loss as to why the CDC, FDA and eight health departments still will not name Taco Bell as “Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A.” Any other ideas?

  • doc raymond

    Bill, you are my friend. USDA identifies the retail stores where recalled meat or poultry were sold. FDA can do the same. It is the fear of a lawsuit that holds them back.

  • Sam

    I will believe corporations are people as soon as Texas executes one. Or as soon as one is waterboarded at Gitmo!

  • Theresa Kentner

    Or one serves Jury Duty, serves in the Military, dies for their country…