The conversation surrounding the #MeToo movement on social media has made many reconsider inappropriate behavior inside and outside of professional environments. The much-publicized trial of disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar – and his conviction on seven counts of sexual abuse– she’d light on the kind of incidents experienced by many female patients. Here’s what you need to know about sexual assault by a treating medical professional.
Sexual assaults by doctors are not necessarily medical malpractice claims. They are assaults. But when we have these cases, we are likely going to file them as malpractice cases. The defenses are often grounded in malpractice and we are often bringing negligence claims against the medical practice or hospital for not properly supervising the doctor in light of what is often prior complaints against the doctor. We have a sexual battery case in suit now where the doctor required a chaperone due to prior allegations but one was not provided with our client. The doctor eventually lost his medical license.
What Do We Consider Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is sexual contact made without the other party’s consent. This can include unwanted touching, kissing, or bodily penetration. Child molestation, coerced sexual intercourse, and rape all fall under the umbrella of sexual assault.
Sexual Assault Facts and Statistics in the U.S.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted while under the age of 18.
- Roughly 8% of children in the U.S. are sexually victimized each year.
- In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator.
- In instances of elderly female sexual abuse, the acts were most often committed by a primary caregiver.
- The psychological toll from sexual assault includes depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and a number of other mental illnesses. Sexual assault has also been known to result in chronic physical conditions including pelvic pain, premenstrual syndrome, and many chronic pain disorders.
When Sexual Assault Occurs in the Doctor’s Office
When a healthcare professional preys on a patient for sexual gratification, they break their sworn oath to do no harm and victimize someone they have a duty to help. These instances are widespread and varied: A pediatrician who molests a young child, a gynecologist who performs an unnecessarily invasive genital examination, a dentist who takes sexual advantage of an unconscious patient or a nursing home attendant who molests a physically infirm resident. These are just a few examples and the hard truth is that these incidents are shockingly common.
Suing the Hospital or Practice
Often, these doctors have lost their licenses after a sexual assault of a patient. They may have multiple claims and their malpractice insurance may have lapsed. More often than not, the medical practice or hospital is a potential defendant because they knew or should have known of the potential for a sexual assault. We have a case now where the medical provider required the doctor to have a chaperone because of prior complaints. Setting aside the issue of why a doctor who needs a chaperone remained employed in the first place, the healthcare provider did not enforce the chaperone requirement. This makes them responsible for the harm that was caused.
What Can You Do After an Assault?
While the vast majority of medical professionals are not sexual predators, it’s important to know what to look for and protect yourself. Record specific instances where a doctor or other healthcare provider’s behavior has felt uncomfortable or seemed unethical. Providing detailed information to the local authorities or your state’s medical board can go a long way toward protecting others from sexual assault.
Medical Professional Sexual Assault Verdicts and Settlements
Below are only a handful of recent cases where a patient receiving medical attention was sexually assaulted. Why? These cases almost invariably settle before a jury trial.
Georgia, 2019: $55,000,000 verdict.
A 15-year-old residential patient at a behavioral health facility engaged in sexual activity with a 40-year-old staff member. This would occur when they were left alone. The patient was a facility resident because they had a history of sexual abuse. They sued the facility for failing to maintain their policies with respect to gender-ratio and staff-ratio supervision. They also alleged that the facility acted indifferent towards the consequences of the situation. The patient suffered depression and the aggravation of their post-traumatic stress disorder because of the situation. A jury found the facility 50 percent at fault and the non-party staff member 50 percent at fault. They awarded the patient $55,000,000, which included $50,000,000 in punitive damages.
Connecticut, 2019: $1,200,000 verdict.
A minor boy was under the care of a behavioral health services facility for several months. During that time, an adult female staff member sexually assaulted and abused him. He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological trauma as a result. His guardian sued the facility, its adolescent medicine specialist, and its adolescent psychiatry specialist for negligence. The lawsuit alleged that three should have known about the sexual assault and breached a special duty to the boy. A jury awarded $1,200,000.
Illinois, 2018: $600,000 pre-suit settlement.
A male patient in his 30s receiving psychiatric care alleged a hospital employee forced him to perform sexual acts. The patient claimed that the hospital ignored complaints made about the employee by him and other patients. The employee was eventually charged with five counts of sexual assault. The patient intended to sue the hospital, alleging its conduct violated the Illinois Sexual Exploitation Act. Prior to the filing of a suit, the parties reached a $600,000 settlement.
Oregon, 2017: $175,000 settlement.
A female prison inmate alleged that a corrections facility doctor sexually abused her. She specifically claimed that the physician assaulted her with a medical instrument during a gynecological examination and made an inappropriate comment about her cervix. The defense disputed this version of events, arguing that he had to reinsert the instrument because of difficulty finding the cervix. The defendant also relied on testimony from a medical assistant, who denied any unprofessional conduct by the doctor. The parties reached a $175,000 settlement. Similar claims against the defendant by several other inmates are still pending.
Wisconsin, 2017: $60,000 settlement.
While receiving psychiatric care at a mental health institution, a female patient alleged that she was sexually assaulted by an employee. The woman sued the facility for negligent hiring and employee supervision, arguing that her rights as a patient were violated due to the hospital’s negligence. The employee and the institution’s insurer were also named as defendants in the suit. The parties agreed to a $60,000 pre-trial settlement.
Georgia, 2015: $3.7 million verdict.
An 18-year-old female patient was sexually assaulted while undergoing a dental procedure under anesthesia. The patient sued the dental practice, alleging a male nurse anesthetist violated her while unconscious. The nurse anesthetist, who was employed by the practice as a contractor for two years, also faced criminal charges for the assault of 19 patients and was ultimately given a life sentence. In her civil suit, the patient claimed profound psychological trauma from the assault. In their verdict, a jury awarded the patient over $3 million in damages.
California, 2016: $320,000 verdict.
A woman seeking chiropractic treatment for injuries she received in a car accident was sexually assaulted by her doctor. In her suit, the patient alleged the chiropractor groped her body and attempted to kiss her against her will. The defendant chiropractor’s defense, if any, is unknown. At the conclusion of trial, the patient was awarded compensatory damages of $300,000 in addition to $20,000 in punitive damages.
Getting a Lawyer
Have you or a loved one been victimized by a trusted medical professional? Our law firm can help you get the compensation for the harm that you have suffered. Call Miller & Zois today to speak with an attorney at 800-553-8082 or get an online case review.