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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court dismisses ransomware suit alleging negligence

Courts Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Ransomware Consumer Protection Data Breach State Issues Indiana


On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted a software company defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that a healthcare system nonprofit (the “nonprofit”) and its insurer (collectively, “plaintiffs”) had not plausibly alleged that the defendant’s 2020 ransomware attack caused it to incur expenses that were compensable injuries. According to the opinion, the nonprofit, which possesses personally identifiable information (PII) records, executed two contracts with the defendant “to help consolidate its existing databases into one system of records and protect this sensitive data.” According to the first agreement, the defendant agreed to maintain servers holding the health nonprofit’s donor and patient data, including PII. In the second agreement, the defendant agreed to, among other things, comply with its obligations as a “business associate” under HIPAA, HITECH, and any implementing regulations.

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, a third party allegedly hacked into the defendant’s systems and deployed ransomware in February 2020, which gained access to the PII that the health nonprofit stored with the defendant; however, the cybercriminals were unable to block the defendant from accessing its own systems. The defendant was said to have learned about the cyber-attack May 2020 and waited until July 2020 to notify the nonprofit. The plaintiffs alleged that the data breach occurred because of the defendant’s failure to reasonably safeguard their database of PII. The plaintiffs also claimed that “’had [the defendant] maintained a sufficient security program, including properly monitoring its network, security, and communications, it would have discovered the cyberattack sooner or prevented it altogether.’” Following the breach, the plaintiffs alleged that they incurred remediation damages that included “various expenses, which included credit monitoring services and call centers, legal counsel, computer systems recovery, and data recovery and data migration services.” The plaintiffs filed suit, alleging breach of contract, negligence, gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs do not adequately explain how the breach caused their remediation damages, warranting dismissal.

The district court found that the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead causation for each of their claims, noting that “without any allegations explaining why they had to spend these amounts, the court is left to speculate how [the defendant’s] breaches caused [the health nonprofit’s] remediation damages.” The district court additionally determined that the plaintiffs’ negligence and contract claims must also fail because “harm caused by identity information exposure, coupled with the attendant costs to guard against identity theft did not constitute a compensable injury under either a negligence claim or a contract claim brought pursuant to Indiana law.” The district court also found that the plaintiffs’ negligence claims are barred under Indiana’s economic loss rule because it did not point to an independent duty outside of contract. The plaintiffs were, however, given leave to amend their complaint and attempt to remedy its deficiencies.