Hospital, medical society settle with sexual abuse victims

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Case in Point

November 6, 2012

Hospital, medical society settle with sexual abuse victims 

The plaintiffs—parents of children molested by a pediatrician—sued various defendants, alleging nonfeasance and professional negligence for failing to protect the children. The parties settled for about $123.15 million. Doe v. Bradley.

In December 2009, pediatrician Earl Bradley was arrested for sexually abusing 86 patients, some as young as two years old. For years, Bradley raped or molested the patients in the office basement or another examination room after telling parents that he was taking the children to another room to get a treat. He videotaped many of the assaults.

After the arrest, the public learned that parents had complained to hospitals since 1994 about Bradley’s conduct, including kissing little girls, examining girls’ genitals, and having them undress for sports physicals. He also took pictures of his patients. Beebe Medical Center told him he could see patients only with a female nurse present, but didn’t rescind his hospital privileges.

In 2004, Bradley’s sister, Lynda Barnes, who also worked in his office, told the Medical Society of Delaware (MSD) that he was a danger to patients. Although the medical society referred the complaints to its Physicians’ Health Committee for investigation and told Barnes they would take action, the committee decided to let the state medical board handle the investigation—and then didn’t tell the board about the complaint. Several doctors knew about the parents’ complaints, and one doctor removed his daughter from Bradley’s care after an incident of touching, but none of them reported him to the state medical board. In 2010, Delaware concluded that the MSD and its doctors engaged in unprofessional conduct.

Several parents filed a class action against Bradley, Beebe, MSD, and the individual doctors on behalf of about 900 patients. The plaintiffs alleged nonfeasance and professional negligence, claiming that the defendants failed to protect the children.

A trial court found that MSD and its doctors did not have a special relationship with the children and thus did not have a duty to protect them. The court held, however, that when the MSD defendants promised Barnes they were taking the claims seriously, they undertook to render services for the protection of a third party under the Restatement (Second) Torts §324A. The defendants “acted in bad faith and/or with a level of negligence that represents ‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care,’” the court held, as reported in the June 2012 issue of Professional Negligence Law Reporter.

The parties settled for $123.15 million, to be placed in a trust under the supervision of the Delaware Court of Chancery. Insurers for both Beebe and the MSD will contribute, and Beebe will also contribute a large amount of cash and provide future treatment to the victims. The money will be divided among five unspecified categories of patients based on the nature of the harm and the need for continued treatment.

A fairness hearing is scheduled for next week.

Citation: Doe v. Bradley, No. N10C-10-317 JRS (Del., New Castle Co. Super. Oct. 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Craig Karsnitz, Georgetown, Del.; and Ben Castle and AAJ member Bruce Hudson, both of Wilmington, Del.

Comment: Bradley is serving 14 life sentences and 164 years in prison.

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