Statute of Limitations on Lawsuits Could Change for Reardon Victims
January 26, 2009
By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER
The Hartford Courant
January 26, 2009
The pool of victims eligible to sue St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center over alleged abuse at the hands of Dr. George Reardon could grow under a proposal now before the state legislature.
The measure — which would extend the statute of limitations in the Reardon case until 2010 — could increase the damages St. Francis would have to pay if the plaintiffs prevail in their negligence lawsuits against the hospital.
Under current state law, victims of childhood sexual abuse can bring civil claims until they are 48 years old, 30 years after they turn 18. But the proposed bill would give victims three years from the discovery of new evidence to sue, regardless of their age.
Staggering evidence of Reardon’s actions surfaced in 2007, five decades after it is suspected he began abusing children. More than 100 movie reels and 50,000 slides of child pornography were discovered hidden in a wall in Reardon’s former West Hartford home.
Reardon died in 1998, but more than 100 victims have filed lawsuits against St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, where he began working in 1963, alleging that the hospital was negligent in failing to prevent Reardon’s actions.
State Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, introduced the bill after hearing from a constituent who says he was sexually abused by Reardon but has not sued because he is too old. Bye said she recognizes the importance of the statute of limitations but believes the discovery of photographic evidence makes the Reardon case unusual.
“In this case, it’s really not right that these victims don’t have recourse,” she said.
The lawsuits against St. Francis are currently in mediation.
State Rep. Michael Lawlor, the judiciary committee co-chairman, said he supports the concept in general because child sexual abuse cases are unique — children often do not come forward for many years. New evidence of the abuse could warrant making an exception to the statute of limitations, he said.
But Lawlor, D- East Haven, said the matter could be complicated because the lawsuits in the Reardon case are against the hospital, not Reardon’s estate. He said he has heard from lobbyists for the hospital, who have argued that the statute of limitations exists for a reason and cited the potential for financial harm to the hospital.
St. Francis officials released a statement Friday saying they could not comment because the case is ongoing:
“As a major Connecticut employer, we understand the far-reaching importance of the proposed revisions to the statutes of limitations,” the statement said. “We are currently assessing this issue.”
The lawsuits allege that St. Francis should have known what Reardon was doing and failed to stop him. He is accused of molesting children and photographing them in sexually suggestive positions. Some of the children were patients, while others were recruited from the community to take part in what he claimed were growth studies.
St. Francis officials have said the hospital did not know of the specific allegations against Reardon until 1993, when state health officials tried to revoke his license. Shortly after, Reardon, weakened from heart and lung disease, gave up his medical license and retired.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not return calls asking for comment.
Reardon’s estate isn’t targeted by any of the current lawsuits, but another proposed law could allow such lawsuits in similar cases.
That bill would extend the statute of limitations for victims to file claims against the estates of sexual abusers, which is now two years following their deaths. State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, and state Rep. Stephen Dargan, D- West Haven, who introduced the bill, said it was inspired by a constituent who was abused as a young child by a relative who later died.
The legislature has extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits in child sexual abuse cases in recent years, recognizing that children who are abused need time to process the experience and decide what to do, Slossberg said. But if the abuser dies, Slossberg said, the victim has significantly less time to seek damages.
Slossberg said she recognized the logistical difficulties the proposal would present, since it would raise questions about estates that are closed or distributed to beneficiaries. But, Slossberg said, “we have to have that conversation about this huge disparity.”