Johns Hopkins Hospital Agrees to $190 Million Settlement in Gynecologist Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 21, 2014

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Johns Hopkins Hospital has reached a preliminary settlement of $190 million with victims of a gynecologist who secretly filmed and photographed thousands of patients.  The settlement looks to wrap up a class action lawsuit against the Baltimore medical center filed after a tip led investigators to discover over 1,000 videos and images of female patients stored at the home of Dr. Nikita Levy, a gynecologist employed by Johns Hopkins for over 25 years.

Hopkins Agrees to Record Settlement in Class-Action Lawsuit

The class-action lawsuit filed against Johns Hopkins Hospital represented more than 8,000 patients who alleged that the medical center should have caught on to Dr. Levy’s behavior before he came under investigation in 2013.  Tipped off by a female coworker who noticed a small camera hidden in the pen Dr. Levy wore around his neck during examinations, Hopkins was unaware of the practice during his entire 25-year tenure – during which time Dr. Levy treated over 12,600 patients.  Dr. Levy committed suicide four days after his arrest, depriving victims of justice and leaving investigators unclear of the full extent of his crimes.

A Maryland judge has approved of Hopkins’ preliminary agreement to pay $190 million to the 8,000 plaintiffs, leaving the two sides to hammer out a few details before the settlement becomes official.  The $190 million sum is one of the largest settlements on record in lawsuits arising from sexual misconduct by a physician.  In a statement, Johns Hopkins wrote, ““We have come to an agreement that the plaintiffs’ attorneys and Johns Hopkins Health System believe is fair and properly balances the concerns of thousands of plaintiffs with obligations the Health System has to provide ongoing and superior care to the community.  It is our hope that this settlement—and findings by law enforcement that images were not shared—helps those affected achieve a measure of closure.”  The hospital went on to note that insurance will cover the cost of the settlement.

Class-Action Claims that Hopkins Liable as Employer

Although Hopkins has denied knowledge of Dr. Levy’s behavior – claiming the gynecologist went “rogue” – plaintiffs in the class-action allege the hospital shares liability for a doctor employed in its medical system.  As soon as it was alerted, the hospital notified Baltimore police and had Dr. Levy escorted from the campus and terminated him immediately.  Despite the prompt action, plaintiffs claim that the hospital should have had procedures in place to identify and prevent Dr. Levy’s behavior at some point during his 25-year tenure. 

The complaint, found here, argues that Johns Hopkins was “responsible to assure and maintain patient safety and privacy for members of the public who received treatment from its agents,” and the hospital failed in its duty to ensure the proper level of care was administered by its physicians.  Claiming Hopkins should have known about its “rouge” gynecologist, the plaintiffs allege the hospital’s negligence in its supervision and monitoring of Dr. Levy gave him the opportunity to continue his activities unchecked – harming thousands of women in the process.

Victims Sought Damages for Emotional Distress

Plaintiffs against Johns Hopkins claim that Dr. Levy’s activities created severe emotional distress and mental anguish with consequences varying from inability to sleep, to failure to function in work or personal lives.  Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Jonathan Schochor, told the Associated Press that Hopkins’ breach of trust had a number of consequences, saying, “Some of these women needed counseling, they were sleepless, they were dysfunctional in the workplace, they were dysfunctional at home, they were dysfunctional with their mates. This breach of trust, this betrayal — this is how they felt.”

Several of the plaintiffs have expressed a distrust of doctors, and indicated that they cannot bring themselves to visit another physician after being exposed to Dr. Levy’s practice.  Emotional distress is available as a legal remedy to victims of criminal activity or negligence who may not suffer a significant physical harm, but have been so severely traumatized that they are unable to continue functioning normally.  Proving emotional distress can be difficult – the law requires plaintiffs to demonstrate that a reasonable person would find the defendant’s behavior so disturbing that anyone would be severely traumatized – but the settlement agreement awarding victims $190 million avoids resolving any questions of Hopkins’ knowledge or culpability. 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said that the settlement will allow the victims to move forward, and over the coming months the parties will work to determine how the $190 million is divided amongst the girls and women who were part of the class-action claim.

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