St. Francis Drawn Into Reardon Case, Lawyers Debate Hospital Liability
Secret Storage – West Hartford Police were dispatched to a residence on Griswold Drive for a report that the homeowner found a large quantity of child pornography. The resident had been renovating the household basement and found a secret storage area where thousands of slides and video containing images of child pornography had been hidden.
December 4, 2007
Daniel P. Jones, Hartford Courant Staff Writer
(excerpts from article)
The top lawyer at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford says the hospital had no specific information about Dr. George Reardon’s alleged sexual abuse of children before complaints surfaced in medical hearings in the early 1990s.
But experienced civil litigation lawyers, some of whom are suing the hospital or evaluating potential complaints, say that might not matter.
They say that plaintiffs might be able to make a case that the hospital is liable because St. Francis employed Reardon and gave him privileges in its facilities. Or the plaintiffs could prevail, the lawyers say, by arguing that the hospital should have known what Reardon was doing – especially since he was dealing with children.
While they acknowledge it will be difficult to make a case against the hospital, the lawyers say the success of any litigation may hinge on the number of victims who come forward and the consistency of their stories.
“It’s because of the sheer numbers of people over a length of time that would make me feel the hospital was responsible because it should have been picked up along the way,” said Jason E. Tremont, a Bridgeport lawyer.
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Reardon, an endocrinologist at St. Francis for 30 years who died in 1998, resigned in 1993 after being hit with accusations that he sexually molested and inappropriately photographed children over decades, starting in the 1950s.
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Barry Feldman, the hospital’s general counsel and senior vice president, said Monday in response to the lawsuit, “I don’t believe that any of the allegations would support wrongdoing by St. Francis itself.”
He discounted the idea that the number of alleged victims would implicate the hospital. “Let’s say the number is 80 or that the number is 100,” he said. “There will be a 30-year period in which Reardon was practicing” and “that would be assuming that all these patients were abused by Dr. Reardon at the hospital,” Feldman said.
“One hundred over 30 years is not a constant parade” to Reardon’s hospital office, he said.
Some of the alleged abuse incidents took place outside the hospital, Feldman said, and “St. Francis certainly can’t be charged with knowing what his activities were outside the hospital.”
When the accusations against Reardon surfaced in the early 1990s, Feldman said, there was nothing “further that would have given any indication of the apparent scope of Dr. Reardon’s inappropriate activities.”
The hospital has photographs of patients taken by Reardon that, according to Feldman, were used for legitimate purposes in the hospital.
“There were indeed people who knew he was taking photos in connection with the work he was doing,” and the pictures often were shared in teaching seminars, Feldman said.
He said hospital officials offered to help West Hartford police in their inquiry. “They want to meet with us probably the first part of next week,” Feldman said. “We don’t know how we might be helpful or how they could be helpful to us.”
Feldman said the hospital has set up a confidential toll-free telephone number for Reardon’s alleged victims and their families, and will help develop a program to provide counseling at the hospital’s expense.
He also said that as officials get further into an analysis of claims against the hospital, “we would try to set up an alternative dispute resolution process that could involve arbitration or mediation, with the intention of alleviating any claims with less litigation to all parties.”
Veteran civil litigators interviewed by The Courant say one legal tack would be to contend the hospital employed Reardon – and gave him everything from his high appointment to his examining room – and therefore the hospital shares responsibility for the alleged abuse.
In most cases, however, Connecticut courts have not held employers responsible for their employees’ behavior if the behavior amounted to criminal acts beyond the scope of normal duties set out by the employer, Tremont said.
Had a child sex abuse complaint been lodged against Reardon – before his troubles surfaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s – then the hospital would have had an obligation to fully investigate the claim and find out what Reardon was doing, the lawyers say.
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Reardon used the guise of conducting studies of childhood growth and development to recruit children for his research, according to lawyers and alleged victims. Reardon then molested the children and often photographed or filmed them in provocative and pornographic poses, according to the lawyers and victims.
The police have said the cache of child pornography that was hidden behind basement walls in Reardon’s former home was staggering – 50,000 photographic slides and more than 100 movie reels.