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Medical Malpractice

Dental Practice Faces Civil Suits Related To Former Employee’s Sexual Assaults On Sedated Patients

Your Charleston personal injury attorneys read yesterday that the Mid-Town Atlanta dental practice that employed a nurse anesthetist sentenced to life plus 25 years in prison for sexually assaulting sedated and unconscious patients now faces a pair of civil lawsuits. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the suits were filed by the parents of a 15-year-old girl and the other by an adult patient. The suits, filed in Fulton County state court, assert that the sexual assaults could have been prevented if the anesthetist had not been left alone with the patients and if the dental practice had taken proper steps to ensure the patients’ safety while they were sedated. Further, the suits state the patients faced “an unreasonable risk” of harm.

According to the minor’s suit, she arrived at the Marietta dental practice on July 29, 2009 for extensive surgery, left alone with the anesthetist and administered anesthesia, rendering her “unconscious, defenseless and completely dependent” on the anesthetist behind closed doors. The suit states the anesthetist lifted the minor’s clothing and proceeded to record himself sexually assaulting the teen in her incapacitated state. Also according to the lawsuit, the 15-year-old, since the 2009 attack, “has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of her life, physical and emotional injuries.” Just three months earlier a similar such attack occurred at the same Marietta dental practice, according to the second lawsuit. The above-mentioned adult patient was awaiting surgery on April 29, 2009, and, again, was sedated, assaulted and videotaped while unconscious in the anesthetist’s care.

Four months after the sexual assault on the teen (November 18, 2009), the anesthetist was arrested after a female visiting the dental practice discovered the anesthetist’s cell phone attached beneath the bathroom sink with the phone’s camera directed at the commode. Upon the phone’s finding, police searched the device and found multiple images of women in the restroom. During his criminal trial, prosecutors described the anesthetist as a serial pervert who assaulted a total of 19 patients, including one during childbirth. To note, the anesthetist also worked at a Cobb Hospital. In addition, secret videotapes were discovered by authorities of women in the bathroom of his Marietta home. In an April 2011 bench trial, the anesthetist was found guilty on 34 charges that included sexual assault of a person in custody, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, and unlawful surveillance. In November he was sentenced to the aforementioned prison term and will not be eligible for parole for 55 years. Also at the bench trial, the anesthetist’s criminal defense attorneys, at the request of their client, offered no defense and called no witnesses.

Because the article announcing the civil suit does not go into the damages sought by the sexual assault victims, your lawyers in Charleston would like to provide some general information on the types of damages available to plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit.

In a civil lawsuit the sexual assault victim may seek accountability as well as damages for the cost of past and future therapy, loss of childhood (if applicable), failure to fulfill potential, and long-term emotional damage and distress resulting from the assault. The damages sought by the sexual assault victim can be both compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are awarded to a plaintiff in a civil case in order to return the plaintiff to where he/she would have been, had the injury or tort not occurred. Compensatory damages can split into two categories– special and general damages. Special damages are specific, and awarded as direct compensation for injuries or losses that can be monetarily quantified (i.e. lost wages, past and future medical expenses, loss of earning ability, and other financial impacts as a result of the incident). By contrast, general damages are not easily quantifiable, and are awarded for less concrete but still very real and serious injuries, such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship and loss of capacity to enjoy life.

Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, are not directly linked to amount and extent of injury suffered by the plaintiff. Rather, punitive damages are penalties imposed upon the tortfeasor (or defendant) as a means to deter future wrongdoing. Often maligned as excessive and even criticized by some as a violation of due process, punitive damages have been upheld, though limited, by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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