St. Francis Settling 17 More Reardon Abuse Lawsuits – Mediation Continues on 48 Other Cases

December 21, 2011

Hartford Courant, Edmond Mahony

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is about to settle 17 of the 65 or so negligence suits still pending against the institution by child abuse victims of Dr. George Reardon, its former chief endocrinologist, lawyers familiar with the matter said.

The settlements, expected to be formalized soon, mark significant progress in resolving lawsuits by now-adult Reardon victims. Claims in the suit have forced the hospital to operate for years in the shadow of one of the most egregious cases ever of sexual abuse by a medical professional.

Settlement documents had not been signed Wednesday, but were being prepared. People familiar with the matter would not discuss specifics, including the cost of the confidential settlement.

As efforts at mediation continue, settling the remaining 48 or so abuse cases against St. Francis could be more difficult because of positions taken by The Travelers Cos., the hospital’s main insurer during the period Reardon was abusing children.

Travelers is interpreting the terms of its hospital coverage in a fashion that limits its obligation to pay claims by victims or even to pay the hospital’s legal defense costs for certain policy years. Travelers has not participated in settlement talks since at least June, when another of the hospital’s insurers challenged in federal court Travelers’ effort to limit its exposure, lawyers familiar with the matter said.

In structuring the negotiations that resulted in the 17 settlements, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg, the mediator, pushed to settle claims for abuse that occurred during years when insurers other than Travelers were substantially responsible for the hospital’s coverage, people familiar with the matter said.

Travelers is responsible for more than half of the hospital’s insurance coverage from 1963 to 1993, the period during which Reardon is accused of sexually abusing as many as 500 children in his hospital offices. Reardon used a purported growth study as a cover for abusing children and photographing them in pornographic poses.

The 17 newly settled cases fell for the most part in years when the hospital was covered by the Evanston Insurance and Pacific Employers Insurance companies. Evanston provided St. Francis with primary coverage from 1984 to 1985 and Pacific provided excess, or umbrella, coverage from 1980 to 1985. St. Francis self-insured after 1985.

Holzberg negotiated the settlements during two days of talks on Dec. 13 and 14. Connecticut’s chief court administrator appointed Holzberg mediator in October. The Reardon suits, which are being tried sequentially, threaten to slow the progress of other cases on the state court system’s complex litigation docket in Waterbury.

Acting as mediator in an unrelated case in early November, Holzberg achieved settlements in suits filed in five of the six deaths resulting from the February 2010 natural gas explosion at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown.

Reardon was hired by St. Francis as its chief of endocrinology in 1963 and almost immediately began using his so-called growth study as a pretext for abuse. Many of his victims now say they were so young and naïve, they could not differentiate between sexual abuse and what Reardon told them was research designed to help less fortunate children.

Reardon was forced to leave the hospital in 1993 after two victims complained of decades-old abuse to state medical examiners. He died in 1998. In 2007, the new owners of his West Hartford home found more than 60,000 pornographic slides of children hidden behind a false wall, many of them taken in Reardon’s hospital office.

As a result of the discovery of the slides, all of the victims with pending suits have slides of Reardon abusing them. The slides eliminate any doubt that the abuse occurred and have resulted in strong emotional reactions when displayed to jurors.

There have been previous settlements in the Reardon cases.

About 60 victims whose abuse fell outside the statute of limitations reached settlements in 2010. Another 32 victims, all represented by the same lawyer, settled for about $17 million in May. The May settlement came as the trial of the first suit by a Reardon victim was about to end.

In July, a jury awarded $2.75 million to one Reardon victim in the only abuse trial to reach a verdict. Two more cases have been settled confidentially since then. The next trial of a Reardon victim is not scheduled until spring.

In the meantime, Holzberg’s mediation efforts are continuing and are said to be focused on cases in which insurance coverage is not clouded by the dispute in federal court over Travelers’ effort to limit its potential liability.

At the center of the coverage dispute is the contention by Travelers that Reardon’s sexual abuse triggers its medical malpractice coverage, rather than its general liability coverage.

If the judge hearing the federal coverage dispute sides with Travelers, the decision would reduce Travelers’ liability to abuse victims from 1980 to 1985 and push the costs onto Pacific Employers. A victory could save Travelers millions of dollars.

An effort in November to mediate the federal case failed.

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