The state Supreme Court upheld a $2.75 million jury verdict Wednesday against St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, in favor of one victim of a doctor suspected of molesting hundreds of children over three decades.
Justices said in a 5-1 ruling that the trial court judge, Dan Shaban, made no mistakes in 2011 while instructing jurors before they began deliberations in the case of the victim, known only as Tim Doe No. 1.
The court said Doe was one of hundreds of victims of Dr. George Reardon, who died in 1998 without being charged with any crime. Authorities said Reardon molested children under the guise of a bogus growth study at St. Francis, which approved and funded Reardon's research. The hospital has settled lawsuits with dozens of other victims who said the hospital should have known what Reardon was doing and stopped the abuse.
Doe, an insurance professional in his early 50s, testified that Reardon, the hospital's chief of endocrinology, persuaded his parents to sign up him and his 10-year-old sister for the growth study in 1969 when he was 8. He said the doctor photographed him and his sister as he instructed them to pose in sexually suggestive positions. Doe saw Reardon on several other occasions until 1972.
Doe had sought $5 million from the hospital as compensation for the abuse that he blamed for depression and intimacy issues that contributed to the collapse of his marriage. He was the only victim with whom the hospital didn't settle.
Doe's lawyer, Steven Ecker, said the court's decision sends a message to all employers that they have to supervise their employees.
"There's no question that the hospital knew from the mid-'60s to the late '80s or early '90s that Dr. Reardon was parading hundreds of children over the years into his office," Ecker said. "They had to do something to check, and the evidence was that they did nothing for 30 years."
Ecker said his client has "been through hell and has waited a long, long time for justice."
"It's hard to imagine a more traumatic event that a childhood sexual exploitation like this," he said. "It can never be erased. So having some vindication through the legal system is tremendously positive."
A lawyer for the hospital didn't return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
After the jury found in favor of Doe in July 2011, lawyers for St. Francis appealed. They said Shaban didn't accept their proposed jury instructions and failed to tell jurors they could find the hospital liable only if they determined that hospital officials knew or should have known of Reardon's propensity for sexual abuse.
Instead, Shaban told the jury that the hospital could be held liable if it determined that hospital officials knew or should have known that Doe was likely to be harmed by Reardon's conduct.
The Supreme Court rejected the hospital's arguments and noted that the hospital didn't claim in the appeal that the plaintiff's evidence was insufficient.
"The hospital ... exercised no supervision whatsoever over the study, even though it knew or should have known that Reardon was touching, photographing and filming the genitalia of naked children in his office, sometimes for hours, without a chaperone present and without any legitimate medical or scientific reason for conducting such a study in the first place," Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority.
Justice Peter Zarella disagreed with the majority and said a new trial was warranted.
Authorities said Reardon began abusing children in the 1950s when he was a young doctor in Albany, N.Y., and continued the abuse in Connecticut through the 1980s. He resigned as a doctor in 1993 amid molestation allegations, but he was never charged.
In 1995, the state Medical Examining Board agreed to drop disciplinary proceedings against Reardon because of abuse allegations in exchange for Reardon agreeing to never practice medicine again in Connecticut or elsewhere.
The scope of the abuse was revealed in 2007 when the owner of Reardon's former home in West Hartford opened a basement wall during a renovation project and found tens of thousands of slides and videos showing children in sexual acts and positions.
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