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How a doctor + a camera = $190 million dollars – Part 1

This post originally appeared in the Legal Examiner. 

The Background

Dr. Nikita Levy had been a gynecologist for Johns Hopkins for 25 years when one of his colleagues noticed something strange about the pen he wore around his neck.

It was a camera.

Dr. Levy had been secretly filming his patients while he administered pelvic exams, performed pap smears, and examined women in their most vulnerable states. Police found more than 1200 videos at his home and office that he saved from a variety of small recording devices he’d stashed around his office.

More disturbing are the reports that Dr. Levy asked women to fully disrobe for routine exams, and that he reportedly examined them without gloves. Nurses were often not present during the exams, violating a longstanding recommendation of the American Medical Association.

The Lawsuit

Last year, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 8,000 women the late Dr. Levy (he killed himself after being exposed last year) is believed to have violated. Among them are at least 60 children.

Attorneys for Johns Hopkins offered to settle the case, rather than proceeding to trial, for a total of $190 million dollars.

Abuse by a doctor = medical malpractice

This case is unusual: even though it’s a class action – meaning the lawyers work on behalf of all of the victims together – it’s a medical malpractice case.

Sexual abuse by a doctor is medical malpractice. Some people object to medical malpractice lawsuits because they feel that a doctor shouldn’t be sued over a “mistake.”

Sexual abuse can’t be excused as an error in judgment. It isn’t a subjective medical decision.

It’s particularly heinous because it doesn’t just injure the body: it can be extremely damaging psychologically and emotionally. It’s worse when the abuser is an authority or safety figure.

One former patient wrote that she and other victims must now live with the fact that their doctor viewed them “not through the clear eyes of a physician but through the filthy lens of a depraved pervert.” 

Widespread violations by a doctor who accesses the most personal, private aspects of women’s lives and bodies are not just damaging the victims: they’re damaging to the entire community.

This case is important because it’s about more than one very sick doctor. For health care to be effective in any way, it is absolutely imperative that the medical facilities to be safe.

Johns Hopkins was responsible for its patients’ safety, and now it must be held accountable.

 Yes, Johns Hopkins is at fault.

  1. The doctor was an employee of Johns Hopkins;
  2. While he abused thousands of women at a Johns Hopkins facility;
  3. In the presence or vicinity of other Johns Hopkins staff;
  4. For at least 8 years before anyone stopped him.

Consider, too, that Johns Hopkins and its insurer decided against a trial: it settled the claim for nearly $200 million.

Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that a defendant does not offer a settlement of this size without any culpability.

Without a trial, the public may never know what Johns Hopkins knew about Dr. Levy, or when they knew it.

But it is easy to speculate on what the hospital may want to hide – questions that would certainly come up in a trial:

  • Is it likely that Dr. Levy just decided one day, 15 years into his career, to start abusing women?
  • It’s AMA policy to have a nurse present during OB-GYN exams: does Johns Hopkins have that policy?
  • If so, not one of the dozens of nurses that must have worked with him over the years ever questioned his procedures?
  • How many other doctors or staff members knew or had suspicions about Dr. Levy?
  • Is it possible that no one ever complained about him?
  • Or how many complaints did the hospital ignore?

Hospitals have been known to hide evidence of sexual abuse by their staff because they’re more interested in protecting their reputation than protecting their patients.

This Oregon hospital have even kept a sex abuser around for years after the administration was warned of his sexual abuse of patients.

I can’t say that’s the situation with Johns Hopkins. Since there’s no trial, they don’t have to produce their records on Dr. Levy.

Bottom line: Johns Hopkins’ lawyers and insurance adjusters calculated the risk, and the potential damage to their medical reputation if they were to go to trial; they determined that this was a fair settlement.

This post originally appeared in the Portland Legal Examiner

How a doctor + a camera = $190 million dollars – Part 2:  the real cost of a lawsuit, and what happens to the $190 million 

Details on the lawsuit can be found at 

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