The federal judge now presiding over many of the legal actions filed in relation to the massive Excellus computer breach has renounced her right to any settlement in the cases.
U.S. District Judge, Elizabeth Wolford, said in a written order filed earlier this week that she realized that she, like many other people in the Rochester region, could wind up a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit she is handling.
"I have further determined that the appropriate course is to renounced any financial interest that could arise from my potential membership in the plaintiff class," Wolford wrote.
Rochester-based Excellus BlueCross BlueShield announced in September that hackers had infiltrated its computer systems and gained access to a treasure trove of sensitive information about 10.5 million people and businesses. That disclosure has prompted a steady stream of lawsuits --- they numbered 12 as of Friday --- accusing Excellus of negligence and seeking class-action status.
Wolford's order doesn't say so explicitly, but she presumably is among the 10.5 million affected parties, all of whom should have been notified by now via letters from Excellus stating that their data were exposed.
Ten of the suits against Excellus were consolidated last week into a single action, and Wolford was named to preside over it.
"We are pleased our request for consolidation was granted. Consolidation ensures the cases move forward efficiently, which is beneficial to the class of individuals affected by the data breach, counsel and the court," said Hadley Matarazzo, a Faraci Lange Rochester lawyer who is representing plaintiffs in several of the lawsuits against Excellus.
The consolidated case may proceed as a class action, but first the nature of the class must be determined. To qualify as a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, a person must show he or she has been harmed --- and what constitutes harm is a matter of some controversy.
Some federal courts have found that the mere threat that someone's personal data has been stolen and could be misused is enough to give that person standing in a case. Other courts have ruled that stolen data must have been misused through fraud or identity theft to qualify.
The two other cases filed against Excellus to date are before district courts in Chicago and Syracuse.
In her order, Wolford noted that "many, if not all, judges of this court" would similarly qualify as potential class members. She cited four other cases in which federal judges had renounced their financial interest in class-action cases.
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