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Friday, 05 January 2018 00:00

A confidential settlement agreement in a sexual misconduct case allowed a surgeon to transfer hospitals without raising any red flags.

Written by Jonathan Druckman

The Cleveland Clinic, an academic hospital located in Ohio, reportedly knew of at least two instances in which one of its doctors had been accused of raping patients but was kept on staff.

Surgeon, Ryan Williams, was accused of anally raping two women back in 2008 and 2009 during his time at the Cleveland Clinic. Some critics of sexual harassment policies, argue that doctors who are accused of sexually assaulting or sexually harassing their patients remain unaffected by their actions. Critics claim that repercussions for these professionals stands in stark contrast to those accused of harassment in the government or entertainment industry. However, no matter the industry, confidential settlement agreements are commonplace. The reason for “secret” settlement agreements is that hospitals and other organizations are worried about their public image.

According to reports filed by the Westlake, Ohio Police Department, a patient was receiving a rectal examination from Dr. Williams when she ran out of the room asserting that Dr. Williams had anally raped her. According to the version of events described by a medical assistant in the police report, Williams replied, "I don't know," with his head in his hands. The doctor’s explanation to the police regarding the presence of semen in the room was that he would masturbate to relieve stress. The alleged victim pressed charges and then underwent laboratory tests. However, those tests were inconclusive. Dr. Williams was never criminally prosecuted; however, a civil lawsuit was filed. It was this civil lawsuit that resulted in a confidential settlement. The standard of proof against a defendant varies tremendously from a criminal case to a civil case. In a criminal case, the evidence must reach the highest standard of evidence to secure a conviction. In most civil cases, this standard is lower at only a preponderance of the evidence (anything over 50%). This difference could explain the likelihood of success between a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit as well as the decision to bring about charges in a criminal case.

Large organizations, such as hospitals often become involved in the lawsuit and take over their employee’s liability in confidential settlements – often to preserve the organization’s reputation or at least control how the matter precedes. Hospitals will check databases which include disciplinary actions by hospitals taken against their working professionals. The problem with Dr. Williams, was that the victim had filed a “Miscellaneous Tort Claim” against him. Plaintiff’s lawyer in this case stated that, “major health care systems are "very often more interested in protecting their brand than protecting the health of patients."

Less than a year after the above-mentioned incident, a patient saw Dr. Williams to have a hemorrhoid removed. She was allegedly given two pills and instructed to take them immediately. She allegedly recalled feeling groggy at the time. Five years later in October 2014, this patient appeared to have “flashbacks” where she would remember what went on inside Dr. Williams’ operating room. These memories were apparently triggered by something as innocuous as a doctor’s appointment. She stated that; "Everything I was remembering was disturbing." Chaperoned patient visits conducted with a medical assistant present were not always possible due to staff limitations at the hospital.

During the summer of 2017, Williams moved to Ohio State University where he began working at the Wexner Medical Center. Reporters from the media outlet, USA Today, reached out to OSU inquiring into the hiring of Dr. Williams. According to USA Today, a spokesman for the OSU Medical Center states that the reporter’s questioning about Dr. Williams was the first time that they were aware of any allegations whatsoever. The same spokesman also indicated that the medical center performed all the requisite background checks. USA Today reported that the following day, Williams had been placed on paid administrative leave by OSU.

Now, critics of confidential settlements are speaking out. Critics are arguing that the secretive nature of these agreements threatens patients’ health and are unethical. However, confidential settlements can often mean more money for plaintiffs and result in quicker settlements. A plaintiff need not accept any settlement offer, a trial is always an option. Going to trial can be risky, however, and a settlement offer, even with a gag clause, may be in the best interest of the client to accept.

If you believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice or sexual harassment, call the Law Office of Druckman & Hernandez to learn what your rights are, and how to protect them. Our lawyers can be reached 7 days a week at 908-353-5850.

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