RICHMOND, Calif, - Dozens of file boxes packed with private, confidential medical information were dumped at a Bay Area landfill, angering people whose names, addresses, medical history and prescription drug information was on display for anyone to see.
One of those people is Jennifer Louis, a Modesto woman who, along with her family, were in a car crash and sued in 2016. The case was settled out of court, but three years later, a box filled with her personal medical information turned up at the Richmond dump site.
“I’m so pissed. This is just absurd,” Louis said. “My whole entire life is right here-found at the dump.”
2 Investigates first learned about the dumped boxes from Adriana Ledesma, who spotted them and was worried about people’s privacy and identity theft.
“It was just gut-wrenching,” Ledesma said about spotting the files. “I can’t even give you a number – there were so many. Somebody needs to be held accountable for this.”
Ledesma took photos of the boxes and the files and called some of the lawyers listed on the documents. She said they didn’t seem too concerned about the privacy breach.
That’s when she called 2 Investigates, which traced the files to a San Francisco law firm, Leach & McGreevy LLP and called the group for comment. Attorney Rick McGreevy said “nothing was being (improperly) disclosed” and “most people don’t go digging around at the dump.”
That comment didn’t sit well with UC Hastings legal ethics professor and attorney Richard Zitrin.
“I just go ouch. It makes me flinch,” Zitrin said. “Somebody’s not stopping to think it through.”
California law details that lawyers are required to protect the privacy of their clients and any state resident. Additionally, a California ethics opinion says an attorney should shred, erase or modify personal information to be sure it can’t be seen by others.
“Particularly in this day and age with years and years into extra privacy for California residents, no lawyer should just be throwing away files without first making sure they cannot be rediscovered or used in any possible way,” Zitrin said. “It’s not throw away, it’s destroy.”
2 Investigates identified files from at least eight civil cases that were boxed up and abandoned at the landfill.
“I am totally stunned,” said Louis’ mother. “How dare them.”
Leach & McGreevy LLP, which appears responsible would not comment beyond saying it is investigating the matter and will provide a statement once it determines what occurred.
The California State Bar said it is considering sending a warning letter to all member attorneys reminding them documents must be destroyed and not simply tossed in the garbage can.
It’s unclear if the law firm in question will be reprimanded. Regardless, it won’t change the sensitive documents that have already been exposed.
“I’m appalled,” Louis said. “This is ridiculous.”