With the number of sexual assault and harassment claims increasing by the day, the public is beginning to see just how many crimes have been buried with the help of confidentiality agreements. It seems as if no industry has been immune to engaging in cover ups of rape, assault, harassment, and abuse. In light of all the stories recently brought forth in the news, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that hospitals are also involved in the business of paying for silence.
Trusting in your physician and placing your health in their hands is one of the most important relationships you will ever have in your life. A feeling of mutual respect is key, as is faith in their ability to provide the best possible care for you, personally. So what happens when this delicate relationship is damaged? What happens when a doctor takes advantage of a patient and instead of being backed by the hospital system, the patient is dismissed or quieted?
Colorectal Surgeon Anally Raped Two Patients, Allowed to Continue Working
According to an article by USA Today, The Cleveland Clinic, the Ohio-based medical center widely considered to be one of the best hospitals in the country, was made aware that one of their colorectal surgeons, Dr. Ryan Williams, had allegedly raped two patients. Both victims took their allegations to police at Cleveland Clinic. Both cases were investigated, but were unable to be criminally prosecuted due to the difficult nature of proving a rape, as well as the one year statute of limitations on filing medical malpractice and rape cases in the state of Ohio.
The first victim says that she was anally penetrated during an exam in 2008 with Dr. Williams. She was so startled that she ran into the hallway, undressed, and began shouting. Staff witnessed the incident and reported that when the victim screamed “Why did you do this?,” to which Dr. Williams responded “I don’t know.” Although the victim took a rape kit, it was deemed inconclusive and when a grand jury was presented with the kit and results from a polygraph test taken by Dr. Williams, they failed to indict him on criminal charges. She filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Williams and Cleveland Clinic and received a confidential settlement. When asked for comment by USA Today, she was unable to provide any comment on the story due to the confidentiality agreement.
10 months after the first victim was raped during an exam by Dr. Williams, Kristin Fehr went to see him for a hemorrhoid consultation. She remembers being told to take two pills. The next thing she remembered was groggily coming to and being shoved from behind. She managed to look behind her and see Dr. Williams holding himself. It was only after having flashbacks nearly 5 years later that she started realizing what had happened to her while in Dr. Williams’ exam room back in February 2009. He had drugged her and anally raped her. Ms. Fehr reported the incident to the Cleveland Clinic ombudsman, who launched an investigation with police at Cleveland Clinic. When she felt like her case had stalled, Ms. Fehr went to the local police in Westlake Village, Ohio, and was accidentally given a copy of both her report and the report filed by the first victim. According to USA Today, who was able to view both statements, they are strikingly similar. As years had gone by and no criminal charges resulted from the first victim’s case, it was expunged. An expunged record is essentially the same as the incident never having been reported at all. Medical boards, future employers, and patients have no way of knowing it had ever existed.
Nothing has ever happened with Ms. Fehr’s claims against Dr. Williams. He left Cleveland Clinic, reportedly on his own accord, and took a job with Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University just last summer. When USA Today contacted OSU to discuss the two allegations that had been made against him, they responded that they were unaware of any incidents involving Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams was placed on paid administrative leave last month, just after USA Today contacted the medical center.
Confidentiality Agreements Ensure Hospital’s Reputation is Upheld, Victim is Silenced
Confidentiality agreements, such as the one enforced with the first victim, guarantee that the victim can not speak about the incident or the terms of the settlement. As victims of mega-producer Harvey Weinstein began coming forth, so have victims of actors, directors, other producers, private citizens, congressmen, doctors, news anchors, and athletes. In many of these cases, either the abuser, alone or with the backing of their employer, have enforced a confidentiality agreement that guaranteed these tragic stories would never see the light of day. Kristin Fehr wants to make sure her story is heard and that no other patient of Dr. Ryan Williams has to suffer the way she did.
Newest Tax Bill Takes Away Major Benefit of Enforcing Confidentiality Agreements
Positive change has begun as a result of the fearlessness shown by victims willing to come forward. The power of women refusing to be silenced will hopefully make bad behavior by powerful men a thing of the past. Congress has also decided to take remove an incentive for corporations to push for silence. The tax bill passed last month includes a clause that forbids a company from deducting attorney fees and settlement funds from sexual harassment or abuse cases if a confidentiality agreement is used.
This would hopefully discourage hospitals from pushing for them by knowing their financial loss will be even larger than if the agreement were allowed to be discussed.
Plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorneys know the game being played by hospitals and medical groups. Settling a case is often preferred, as it keeps the story out of the media, out of the courts, and out of the general public’s awareness. In other words, settlements that use a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement ensure that a good reputation is left untainted by stories of medical error, abuse and neglect.
If you or someone you love has been physically or sexually assaulted, harassed, abused, or suffered any form of maltreatment at the hands of a medical provider, the medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys of Chicago, Illinois-based Levin & Perconti would like to speak to you. As in Ohio, there is a statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases in the state of Illinois, so please contact us now. Consultations are free, confidential, and with one of our dedicated attorneys.