Lawsuit: Feinberg fellow took, shared photos of Northwestern graduate in hospital

Patrick Svitek, Summer Editor

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A recent Northwestern graduate is suing a fellow in the Feinberg School of Medicine, claiming he took photos of her while she was hospitalized for alcohol overconsumption and posted them on social media without her permission.

The $1.5 million lawsuit, filed Aug. 15 in Cook County Circuit Court, says Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Feinberg did not take proper measures to prevent Dr. Vinaya Puppala from invading the privacy of Elena Chernyakova (Communication ’12) on June 13.

After Chernyakova awoke from nearly nine hours of unconsciousness in the emergency room, Puppala photographed her “on the hospital bed, crying, and attached to an IV,” according to the lawsuit. A mutual friend had tipped Puppala off that Chernyakova was in the ER, and he used an identification card to view her medical records even though she was not his patient.

Hospital security asked Puppala to immediately delete the photos of Chernyakova, but the lawsuit says he refused and then shared them on Facebook and Instagram with “attached statements of commentary.”

The lawsuit calls Puppala’s conduct “extreme and outrageous,” saying it caused Chernyakova emotional distress and endangered her professional future. Chernyakova, an actress and model, has the “potential to someday work for Fortune 500 companies, which may now not occur” due to the incident, according to the lawsuit.

The hospital said last week that Puppala acted “entirely on his own,” but it has “zero tolerance” for any abuse of access to private medical information.

— Patrick Svitek