Plaintiff Awarded $2,750,000 – Jury Finds St. Francis at Fault in Reardon Sex Abuse Case
Plaintiff Awarded $2,750,000 in Damages for Emotional Trauma
The Hartford Courant, by Edmund H. Mahony
1:21 PM EDT, July 8, 2011
WATERBURY — After four and a half hours of deliberations, a six-person jury Friday found St. Francis Hospital at fault for Dr. George Reardon’s sexual abuse of a child decades ago and awarded the now middle-aged victim $2,750,000.
The plaintiff, known as Tim Doe 1, accused the hospital of negligent supervision of Reardon and failure in a duty to provide special care to children in its custody. The jury agreed with both his claims.
Tim Doe 1, now 50, had asked the hospital to pay him $5 million for the emotional trauma he said he began suffering as a child when Reardon used a phony growth study at the hospital as a pretext to sexually abuse him, his sister and hundreds of other children.
“I am just so grateful and I’m hoping the people behind me get the same fair chance that I did, because it is huge, a huge relief, from everything that has been pent up for so many years,” Tim Doe 1 said after the verdict was announced.
About 60 more suits are pending by victims who claim that Reardon abused them from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Paul Williams, a lawyer for the hospital said: “We are deeply disappointed in the jury’s decision in the case. It has been a long, painful journey for all parties regarding the late Dr. Reardon. As many witnesses testified, Dr. Reardon was a master manipulator who cunningly deceived his closest professional peers, his family, his neighbors and his community. We will now begin to review our options to determine appropriate next steps. We will expect to complete that review within the next several days.”
The early reaction from people involved in the case suggested that Friday’s verdict was a reason for optimism for other Reardon victims who have filed suit and are waiting for trial.
Tim Doe 1’s abuse occurred in 1969, relatively early along the abuse suffered by all the plaintiffs. Because the abuse occurred before the hospital had formulated a succession of detailed guidelines on how research could be conducted, lawyers had considered Doe’s case a difficult one for the plaintiff to establish liability on the hospital’s part.
The jury, however, after about four and a half hours of deliberation over two days found that the hospital was liable.
“I think it is a very fair result by the jury in light of the tremendous damage and pain that Tim has suffered,” said attorney Douglas Mahoney, who represented Tim Doe 1 in the second, Reardon-related case against the hospital to reach trial.
Mediation failed and Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban ordered the cases tried sequentially. Some lawyers had said a jury verdict and decision on damages could restart settlement talks.
Jury deliberations in the first trial, in which another now middle-aged victim asked for between $5 million and $7 million, ended without a verdict in May when the hospital, its insurers and the first victim’s law firm, Stratton Faxon, settled. The confidential settlement, placed by sources at between $17 million and $18 million, covered about 32 victims represented by Stratton Faxon.
Lawyers involved in the continuing litigation had said a settlement was unlikely in the second trial because the hospital’s primary insurer, the Travelers Cos., wanted a jury to value hospital negligence, if any, as a contributor to Reardon’s abuse. The decades of abuse took place in Reardon’s St. Francis office after he was hired in the early 1960s as chief of endocrinology.
For the most part, the closing arguments Thursday by Mahoney and St. Francis lawyer Ernest Mattei covered legal issues that have characterized the case since the first suits were filed four years ago.
Mahoney argued that St. Francis failed utterly in its obligation to supervise Reardon and protect the child-study subjects placed by unwitting parents in hospital care. Worse, Mahoney argued, the hospital “ignored” its own rules requiring periodic review and reauthorization of Reardon’s study of growth patterns in children and adolescents.
Tim Doe 1 testified during the trial that Reardon persuaded his parents to enroll him and a slightly older sister in the study in 1969. Doe, then about 8½ years old, said Reardon photographed the children after instructing them to undress and pose in sexually suggestive positions.
As have other victims, Doe said he lacked the sophistication to realize that he was not participating in legitimate research.
Reardon died in 1998. In 2007, new owners of his West Hartford home found more than 50,000 obscene photographs and motion picture recordings of children hidden behind a false wall. Among them were photographic slides of Doe and his sister posing in Reardon’s office. Those slides were presented to the jury.
“It is undisputed, absolutely undisputed, that the hospital never supervised anything having to do with Dr. Reardon,” Mahoney told the jury.
He referred to a hospital witness, an expert on pedophilia, who he said could not recall abuse on the scale of that perpetrated by Reardon through his phony growth study.
“Why is this the only hospital it happened in?” Mahoney said. “Because it is almost inconceivable that you could run a hospital with so little supervision of a doctor.”
The hospital also ignored what Mahoney characterized as warnings of aberrant behavior. Among other things, it bought Reardon a $749 motion picture camera in 1971 and, later, a book that discusses whether children who have homosexual experiences become homosexuals as adults.
Mattei accused Mahoney and his client of “spinning” evidence and building a case on an expert witness who lied about whether he was briefly enrolled, years ago, in a doctoral program. Mattei told jurors he was confident that they would not find St. Francis liable in Reardon’s abuse. If there was a finding of liability, Mattei told the jury Thursday, a damage award should be minimal.
He called Reardon a “deceitful,” “master manipulator” whose behavior was indefensible. But he said Reardon deceived St. Francis, much as he did his victims, and the hospital should not be held responsible for his acts.
Mattei told the jury that Reardon arrived at the hospital with outstanding credentials. He said Reardon became a “doctor’s doctor” among colleagues who entrusted their wives and children to his care.
It is unreasonable to expect the hospital to have recognized him as a secret pedophile, Mattei said. The hospital administration — like society in general during the years Doe was abused — was unaware of the insidious threat from pedophiles. Mattei said the notion of a pedophile joining a medical staff was incomprehensible.
“Do you think that any of these doctors would have sent their wives and family members to a doctor who was suspected of being a pedophile?” Mattei asked the jury. “That’s what it was like 40 years ago… It points out what a different time it was. People trusted each other, and they weren’t sensitized to pedophilia.”
Mattei also repeated an argument the team of hospital lawyers developed during the first trial — that St. Francis had no responsibility under its rules or anyone else’s to supervise Reardon’s growth study because it was data collection, not medical research.
Supervision was required only in cases of “intrusive” research that had the potential to cause harm to human subjects. Reardon’s research, as he described it, involved the measurement of children’s body parts. And since it involved rates of sexual maturation, some measurements involved unclothed children, Mattei said.
“What Dr. Reardon was doing in 1969 and 1970 did not require supervision and monitoring,” Mattei said. “It was viewed as benign and harmless by his colleagues, based on what was known at the time.”
Tim Doe 1, a successful insurance professional, does not claim that his abuse hindered his earning capacity. Rather he has argued that the abuse caused a range of emotional problems. Those include depression and a host of intimacy issues, some of which Mahoney said contributed to the end of his marriage.
Mattei argued that Doe’s infidelity destroyed his marriage and that pressures, such as those associated with his job, brought on other emotional problems.
The jurors began deliberating Thursday afternoon.