PHOENIX – A judge has approved a $ 15 million settlement against a doctor in a lawsuit filed by the parents of an incapable woman who was sexually assaulted and then gave birth at a long-term care center in Phoenix, marking the last of several deals to resolve legal rape claims.
The settlement reached on behalf of Dr Phillip Gear, who cared for the woman for 26 years while she lived at Hacienda Healthcare, was found reasonable last week by a judge. But Gear’s insurer, who died late last year, said in court documents that he had no obligation to pay the amount, arguing that the doctor’s policy did not cover claims resulting from a sexual act.
This is the largest publicly known settlement regarding the attack on the woman, who gave birth in December 2018. Her parents sued Arizona State, Gear, and another doctor who was caring for their daughter. .
The state, which contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities, settled last summer for $ 7.5 million.
Dr Thanh Nguyen, who cared for the woman in the months leading up to the surprise delivery, and a medical group also resolved claims against them last summer for an undisclosed amount. And Hacienda Healthcare agreed to settle an undisclosed amount before the woman’s parents file their complaint in late 2019.
In declaring the $ 15 million settlement reasonable, Judge Theodore Campagnolo concluded that Gear’s treatment of the woman was below standard of care by failing to diagnose her pregnancy and have her regularly examined.
The judge said the woman’s mother’s requests to only have female employees to care for her daughter had not been followed. Campagnolo also said that evidence that the incapacitated woman was the victim of numerous sexual assaults was not in dispute in the civil case.
Kevin Barrett, a lawyer who previously represented Gear in a lawsuit brought against the doctor by his insurer, did not immediately return a call late Tuesday morning asking for comment. Gear passed away on December 20.
The pregnancy was discovered when an employee at the long-term care facility changed the clothes of the then 29-year-old victim and noticed that she was in labor. Employees told police they had no idea the woman was pregnant.
The birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for severely disabled or incapacitated patients, and resulted in the resignation of Hacienda’s CEO.
Police said the DNA of Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who worked at Hacienda, matched a sample taken from the woman’s son.
Sutherland, who was fired after his arrest and later surrendered his license to nurse, pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. He was not the target of the trial.
The victim lived in Hacienda for 26 years, until the birth of her son, who is now in the care of his parents.
The woman has been in a vegetative state since her childhood. Campagnolo wrote that the cause of his condition is unclear. When she was around 2 years old, she suffered a near-drowning which deprived her brain of oxygen, although there were also reports that she had congenital problems, such as seizure disorders, shortly afterwards. after his birth, wrote the judge.
Lawyers for the family said Hacienda missed signs the woman was carrying a baby, such as her weight gain and swollen belly, and delivered the boy without painkillers. Their lawsuit also alleged that the state had poorly monitored Hacienda’s operations.
Campagnolo said medical records showed Gear had not performed regular examinations of the woman for at least three years prior to her transfer in September 2018.
Even though the woman’s mother had requested that her daughter be taken into care only by women, evidence shows that Sutherland and other men had cared for her over the years, Campagnolo wrote. The judge said the woman’s mother made the requests after learning that her daughter may have been sexually assaulted in 2002.
Phoenix Police said health officials at the time discovered that some Hacienda employees used sexually-oriented language when addressing patients, but were unable to corroborate the claims. physical violence. Police said there was not enough evidence to justify a criminal complaint against the employees.
Gear’s insurer argued that Gear was not the woman’s primary care physician when she gave birth and could not be held responsible for the sexual assault.
“The first fact is correct, and the second fact is debatable,” Campagnolo wrote. “However, Dr. Gear’s liability was not limited to sexual assault and childbirth.”
Campagnolo wrote that Gear had known since 2002 that there were allegations of sexual abuse that could have included the patient in question.
“The fact that the internal investigation did not find evidence of sexual assault would not get Dr Gear off the hook,” Campagnolo wrote, adding that the doctor knew the woman’s mother had only requested caregivers.
Arizona Department of Administration spokesperson Megan Rose declined to comment on the state’s regulation.
Hacienda spokesman David Leibowitz, Nguyen’s attorney Andrew Rosenzweig, and Robin Burgess, an attorney representing Gear’s insurer, James River Insurance Company, did not return calls for comment.