32 Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against St. Francis SettledHartford Courant
Edmund H. Mahony
May 09, 2011
St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center has agreed to settle one-third of the lawsuits filed by sex abuse victims of Dr. George Reardon, a hospital endocrinologist who decades ago used a pediatric growth study as a pretext to abuse hundreds of children.
The parties to the settlement — St. Francis and attorneys for Stratton Faxon, whose clients include the victim in the first and only lawsuit so far to reach trial — refused to discuss the terms of what they called the confidential settlement. Others did so in general terms on the condition that they not be identified. They said the settlement was in excess of $17 million.
The agreement was reached Sunday evening, following a weekend of negotiation between the hospital and the New Haven law firm representing 32 of Reardon's victims. It became public about 9 a.m. Monday, as jurors were beginning to arrive at Superior Court for a second full day of deliberations. The settlement followed years of unsuccessful talks between Reardon's victims and the hospital. About 60 similar lawsuits remain pending by victims represented by different attorneys. Jury selection in the first of those cases is scheduled to take place on May 24.
Lawyers familiar with the settlement said that the money would be distributed to victims included in the agreement by a neutral party chosen by their law firm. They said that individual victim settlements were expected to be disbursed in most cases based on considerations such as the relative severity of the abuse and how it affected the victims.
Some lawyers said that the settlement by a block of Reardon victims — in particular, the monetary value it places on Reardon's abuse — could lead to more fruitful negotiations by the remaining plaintiffs. The hospital, battered for years in news accounts by its association with what Reardon did as long as 40 years ago, has consistently pursued settlement, according to a source familiar with the hospital's position, but has been frustrated by the inability of its insurers and the plaintiffs' lawyers to reconcile their positions.
A half-dozen lawyers familiar with past settlement efforts have said Travelers Cos. Inc. carried most of the hospital's insurance coverage during the years that Reardon is accused of abusing children at the hospital — from 1963, when St. Francis appointed him as its chief of endocrinology, until 1984. The hospital was self-insured from 1985 through the early 1990s, when Reardon was forced to retire after state health regulators received the first public abuse complaints against him.
Reardon's abuse of hundreds of children was described in explicit detail in the first trial, which began on April 5 and reached the six-member civil jury on Thursday. The first victim is a now-middle-aged man identified in court as John Doe 2. He and a half-dozen fellow victims testified at his trial that Reardon, conducting his so-called growth study from a hospital office, abused and photographed them, sometimes in obscene poses with their brothers and sisters.
Some of the victims have said that they arrived in Reardon's offices when their parents, suspecting growth or glandular problems, were referred by family pediatricians. Others said that Reardon persuaded their parents to enroll them as child subjects in his so-called growth study, a study that he said had the potential to benefit children in general. In at least one case, Reardon recruited study subjects at a Hartford area judo studio popular with boys in the 1970s.
Doe's suit, like the others, was filed nine years after Reardon's death in 1998, when proof of the abuse surfaced. The new owners of Reardon's West Hartford home discovered more than 50,000 pornographic slides of children hidden inside a false wall. A police officer testified at the trial that detectives were able to identify about 250 victims from the photographs — including Doe.
All the victims accuse the hospital of negligence for contributing to their abuse by failing to supervise Reardon. St. Francis argued in its defense that Reardon was such an uncannily deceptive pedophile that he fooled his hospital colleagues, just as he did the parents of his victims. There was testimony at the trial that some of Reardon's child victims thought his abuse was part of the growth study.
The hospital issued a statement Monday reiterating its position as having consistently sought to settle all victim suits.
"From the beginning of this tragedy related to the late Dr. Reardon, we have remained committed to resolving this issue as fairly as possible," the statement said.
But St. Francis also seemed to signal that it could take a hard line with those victims who have yet to settle. The hospital asserted that it had proved its defense in the first trial — that it was duped by Reardon — even if the jury was excused before agreeing on a verdict.
"With the trial of the first case, we believe that we have proven that Dr. Reardon was a master manipulator who deceived his patients, their parents, and his colleagues at the Hospital," the statement said. "We are prepared to prove that again in court, as necessary."
The hospital might have to do so, according to Hartford lawyer Richard Kenny, whose firm represents 40 victims with lawsuits that have not yet been settled.
"If they are intending that that statement is in any way a threat to the remaining plaintiffs, then we look forward to the next trials," Kenny said. "If we can resolve it for something that we think is fair to our people, then we will resolve the case.
John Doe 2 could not be reached Monday, but one of his attorneys at Stratton Faxon, Paul Edwards, described him as "pleased and relieved" by the settlement. Edwards said that a "sense of relief" was the reaction common to most of the 32 Stratton Faxon clients when they were notified of the settlement of their cases Sunday night or Monday morning.
"This trial has weighed heavily on the shoulders of every one of our clients," Edwards said. "Three and a half years into this, a lot of those people are happy we've come this far and stood up for what is right. There is also some happiness today to turn the page and get some closure here and move on."
Participants in mediation efforts, all of which had failed until Monday, said the talks had broken down in the past because of seemingly unbridgeable gaps between the way that victim lawyers and the hospital's insurance carriers valued the effect of Reardon's abuse.
That gap was on display in the first trial. Doe's psychiatric expert testified that Doe could carry emotional scars from the abuse for the rest of his life. The hospital expert testified that Doe's seven-year association with Reardon was generally positive, despite the abuse.
At one point in the talks, attorneys for 93 victims were asking for $157 million to settle all the cases, according to two attorneys familiar with the talks. At the same time, those two attorneys said, the insurance companies, of which Travelers was the primary carrier, were offering at least $100 million less.
A dispute over the kind of insurance coverage triggered by the abuse claims also became an issue of contention, according to attorneys familiar with settlement talks. Travelers argued that Reardon's sexual abuse amounted to medical malpractice, which would have triggered professional liability rather than general liability coverage.
A professional liability claim would have limited Travelers' exposure and could have resulted in less money being available for settlement purposes.
A spokesman for Travelers said recently that the company would not discuss matters "in litigation."