Doctor faces lawsuit over plane crash

10 Jun 2016

Nerissa Ferrie

by Nerissa Ferrie

Folder being stamped CONFIDENTIAL

A recent article reports that Andreas Lubitz’s doctor has been named in a lawsuit following the Germanwings plane crash which killed 150 passengers in the French Alps last year.

The claimant, who lost his daughter and grandson in the crash, alleges that the doctor had an overriding duty to breach patient confidentiality and disclose the pilot’s depression and suicidality to his employer and the authorities.

We often remind doctors about patient confidentiality and its importance to the therapeutic relationship. If we discuss this tragedy in the Australian context, it is appropriate to review one of the few exceptions which allows for the disclosure of a patient’s personal health information without their consent.

What APP 6.34 says, and how it applies to doctors

Australian Privacy Principle 6.34 makes provision for doctors to disclose personal health information where it is unreasonable or impracticable to obtain the patient’s consent, and the doctor reasonably believes it is necessary to disclose the information to lessen or prevent a serious threat to the life, health or safety of any individual, or to public health or safety.

APP 6.34 requires the doctor to use their best judgement, which is where the Medico-legal Advisory Services team can be of assistance. If a patient discloses information which may pose a threat to life or public safety, call us for advice. It is ultimately your decision whether you breach confidentiality, but we can help you navigate the wording in the privacy legislation and talk through the issues.

Doctors can be reluctant to breach confidentiality because it is such a vital component of the doctor-patient relationship, but occasionally the risk to public safety outweighs a potential breach.


This blog contains general information only. We recommend you contact your medical defence organisation or insurer when you require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.



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