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Law firm eyes lawsuit over theft of TRICARE patient data

A Florida personal injury law firm engaged in a number of high-profile class action suits, including one against BP stemming from its massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, said it has started an investigation into the theft of computer tapes in September containing sensitive health data and personal information on 4.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries, potentially leading to a lawsuit.

In a press release, the law firm Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor of Pensacola, Fla., said it is "currently investigating this matter and the claims of TRICARE beneficiaries harmed by this massive security breach."

The computer tapes were stolen from the car of an employee of Science Applications International Corp., a TRICARE contactor. Thieves could use the data they contain to obtain fraudulent credit cards, open bank accounts, or apply for public benefits using the stolen identities of current and retired servicemen and women and their family members, the press release said.

The press release contains a link to a Web page titled, "TRICARE Data Breach Lawsuit" where the firm asks anyone affected by the theft to contact a 24-hour toll-free hot line it has established.

Levin Papantonio has focused on the fact that TRICARE decided not to provide free credit and identity theft-monitoring services, which could cost as much as $146.8 million if all 4.9 people affected by the theft opted for such a service. "In response to the serious identify theft risk that this data breach could entail, TRICARE and SAIC have made it the patients' responsibility to monitor whether their identities have been further compromised," the law firm said.

Despite the blaring headline on the firm's website, which implies an ongoing lawsuit, Patrick Barrett, a securities and consumer fraud investigator at the firm, said Levin Papantonio has not yet filed a lawsuit against TRICARE or SAIC. That would happen only after the firm completes its investigation to determine if any harm resulted from the tape theft, said Barrett, the firm's contact on the press release. He added that if his personal information were potentially compromised by a theft, "I would want credit protection."

Levin Papantonio serves as one of four lead law firms in class action lawsuits against BP and also has filed a wide range of medical malpractice lawsuits. The firm says on its main Web page that it has won more than $1 billion in total settlements for clients.

TRICARE did not respond to a query on the potential lawsuit. SAIC spokesman Vernon Guidry said the company will not comment.

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