April 24, 2012
The Hartford Courant, Edmund Mahony
St. Francis Hospital and its insurers have reached settlements with virtually all of the 150 known child victims of hospital endocrinologist George Reardon, a milestone in years of contentious litigation that grew from what may be the most extensive case ever of child sexual abuse by an individual.
A state mediator, Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, is credited with pushing the parties toward settlements, some of which were being finalized this week. People familiar with the cases said the agreements, including associated legal expenses, could cost the hospital and three of its insurers $50 million or more.
The terms of awards to victims are confidential. But the 90 or so victims who sued the hospital within the statute of limitations established by state law will receive, on average, about $500,000 each, those familiar with the cases said. Individual awards varied widely, depending on the nature of the abuse and its effect on now-adult victims.
The 60 or so victims who sued outside the statute of limitations received settlements earlier in substantially lesser amounts, those familiar with the cases said.
The one victim to try his case to a verdict won $2.75 million from a jury last year. The hospital appealed the verdict and will argue the matter to the state Supreme Court on Thursday. Four other victims, brothers, did not settle and are scheduled for trial later this year, should further mediation fail.
"One word comes to mind and that's 'bittersweet,'" said a victim whose settlement was being finalized this week. "I think justice was served, but at the same time, what changes? Are we [as victims] going to prevent children from being abused in the future? The biggest thing is, have we learned anything from this as a society? This has got to stop. This abuse of children has got to stop."
Reardon, who died in 1998, abused as many as 500 children from 1963 to 1993, when he was chief of endocrinology at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. He was forced to resign after a brother and sister he abused while studying medicine in Albany tracked him to Hartford and complained to state medical regulators.
Reardon's reputation in Connecticut as an expert in child growth rates and growth-related disorders gave him access to thousands of children. He is accused of abusing some children who were patients. He abused hundreds of others after persuading their parents to enroll them in what he claimed was a long-term pediatric growth study.
The study was a pretext Reardon used to abuse children while posing them for obscene photographs. There is evidence Reardon abused children in his hospital office, in groups that sometimes included multiple siblings.
Of the thousands of documents collected by plaintiffs in the cases, there is a record of only one parent, a mother, complaining that Reardon mistreated her son during a growth study visit. The records show the complaint was made to the Hartford Country Medical Association, but the parent was persuaded by her lawyer and others to drop it.
After Reardon's death, a new owner of his West Hartford home discovered more than 50,000 explicit photographs hidden behind a false wall. All of the victims who sued the hospital were able to identify themselves in the photographs and had been prepared to present a jury with evidence of their abuse as it happened.
'Victims Lost Their Childhoods'
The lawsuits claimed that Reardon's abuse was responsible for a range of long-term emotional problems in his victims that included failed marriages and chronic drug and alcohol abuse.
"This is a tragedy all the way around," Holzberg said. "Obviously, the victims lost their childhood and, in some cases, their lives have been upended and or ruined. In the case of the insurance coverage, I can't imagine that when these policies were written 30, 40, 50 years ago, that they had any expectation that they'd be paying tens of millions of dollars as a result of this diabolical monster. And St. Francis itself is a remarkable health care facility. I'm hopeful these cases have been resolved in a way that is at least reasonably satisfactory."
The hospital's defense to the suits had been that Reardon deceived his medical colleagues just as he deceived the parents of his victims.
Wide disagreement over the cost in damages of Reardon's abuse repeatedly killed other efforts at mediation until the state judicial branch put Holzberg in the talks late last year. He presided over a series of sessions that sometimes ran 10 or more hours a day over six days.
"St. Francis is pleased that these matters are resolved and that the judicial branch was instrumental in bringing about this outcome," said attorney Paul Williams, whose Hartford firm, Day Pitney, represents the hospital. "Specifically, the resolution has been in large measure due to the perseverance and talents of Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg."
A spokesperson for The Travelers Cos., the hospital's primary insurer, said: "Travelers does not comment on specific cases. However, Travelers does recognize and appreciate the efforts and expertise of Judge Holzberg."
Insurers' Dispute Continues
Travelers is responsible for most of the hospital's coverage, primary and excess, over the three decades Reardon is accused of abusing children. Pacific Employers Insurance provided excess coverage from 1981 to 1985 and Evanston Insurance provided the hospital's primary coverage for a year between 1984 and 1985. The hospital was self-insured after 1985.
Although the claims by Reardon's abuse victims are largely settled in state court, there is a continuing dispute in federal court among the hospital and its insurers over how to apportion the ultimate costs of defending the suits and settling with victims.
In general terms the continuing dispute turns on whether Reardon's abuse triggers the hospital's professional malpractice or general liability coverage. Because of policy language, Travelers and Evanston benefit by being liable for fewer costs if the appropriate coverage is determined to be professional malpractice. Pacific and the hospital benefit if general liability coverage applies.
The federal case is before U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz in New Haven. On April 19, Kravitz said he needs more evidence to settle the coverage dispute, But he ordered Travelers to continue to pay the hospital's legal defense costs.
Those legal costs will include the appeal to the Supreme Court, the cost of resolving the four remaining suits and any new suits brought by additional victims. Two more victims have sued since Holzberg's push for mediation began last fall.