Judge Penalizes St. Francis for Concealing Documents – Ruling Could Strengthen Cases of Victims Suing Hospital for Abuse by Doctor
August 1, 2011
The Hartford Courant, by Edmund H. Mahony
9:52 PM EDT, August 1, 2011
A Superior Court judge took the unusual step Monday of penalizing, or sanctioning, St. Francis Hospital for concealing records that could strengthen the cases of about 90 victims suing for their abuse as children by Dr. George Reardon.
Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban’s ruling imposed what amounts to a small fine on the hospital by ordering it to reimburse the victim who sought the sanctions for costs associated with pursuing the motion in court.
Perhaps more significantly, the ruling gives the victims new opportunities to press for more material supporting their negligence cases against St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
Shaban said he will permit the victims to argue for opportunities to take what could be dozens more depositions from hospital employees in connection with the 30 years of disputed records. In addition, Shaban ordered the hospital to review scores of other record requests already made by victims to make sure there is nothing else that may have been improperly withheld.
Neither the victims seeking the records nor the hospital’s legal team would discuss the sanctions order that Shaban issued at the close of business Monday.
The dispute over sanctions is the sharpest in a string of disagreements between St. Francis and the now middle-aged victims who were sexually abused and photographed as children by Reardon, the hospital’s longtime chief of endocrinology. Reardon, who died in 1998, used a study of child growth rates that he conducted in his hospital office to gain access to hundreds of children.
The sanctions motion was filed by Bridgeport lawyer of Tremont Sheldon P.C., whose client was allowed to sue under the pseudonym Tim Doe 1. Doe was the second Reardon victim to bring a suit against the hospital to trial and won a $2.75 million verdict from a jury on July 8.
Attorney claimed after the verdict that the hospital had been improperly withholding internal records.
The hospital has asserted in court that it responded to all record requests — a legal process known as discovery — in good faith. The hospital lawyers said in court that they did not give the victims copies of medical staff bylaws because the victims never asked for them specifically. Rather, the hospital said the victims asked for and were given the hospital’s general corporate bylaws.
Shaban pointed out in his one-page order concerning the bylaws that many of the decisions on what records to provide to the victims were made in January 2010 by the hospital’s previous counsel, the Boston-based law firm Bingham and McCutcheon. The hospital retained the Hartford office of Day Pitney in June 2010.
The documents that were the subject of the sanctions motion are successive editions of the bylaws governing the hospital medical staff from 1960 to 1993. The victims contend that the medical staff bylaws established procedures that required the hospital to review research by members of its staff.
The victims contend that, with a complete set of the records, they can argue to jurors that the hospital would have uncovered Reardon’s abuse had it simply followed its own rules.
Prior to the sanctions argument, the hospital turned over some internal records showing that it had policies in place to review research beginning in the late 1960s. But the victims have long suspected the hospital had in its possession a more comprehensive set of research protocols.