July 26, 2014 10:47:53 PM
BALTIMORE -- Thousands of women whose genitals might have been photographed during gynecological exams can share a $190 million settlement from Johns Hopkins Health System. But they'll have to describe their trauma before seeing any money.
That might be painful for some women who feel profoundly violated by Dr. Nikita Levy, who committed suicide in February 2013 after being caught with hundreds of pelvis pictures. Others who have gotten over their shock in the year and a half since then might wonder if it's worth their trouble.
And still other patients who didn't recall any exam-room trauma might try to collect anyway.
One woman who contacted The Associated Press seeking to join the class action couldn't remember Levy, but said she would try for the money.
"I could have been a victim, and if I was, he should have to pay for what he did and the hospital should have been more aware of what was going on at the facility," the woman said.
The AP does not usually identify possible victims of sex crimes.
As many as 8,000 women and girls already joined the class action. News of the huge settlement filed Monday may encourage more of the 12,600 patients Levy saw during his 25 years at Hopkins to sign up as well.
Investigators found 1,200 videos and 140 images on Levy's home computers, which they believe he secretly took with tiny cameras during exams. But none were linked to any particular patient, and none were shared. Levy committed suicide without explaining himself or pointing to any victims.
What comes next depends on each woman's perception of her suffering.
The eight law firms involved told plaintiffs they could ask for as much as 35 percent to cover costs, leaving $123.5 million in an interest-bearing account until each woman's claim is resolved.
That could add up to thousands of dollars to women whose private parts might have ended up on the doctor's hard drives.
But it won't be divided equally. Some women who also reported being sexually abused by the doctor presumably would be entitled to much more. Others who shook off their trauma might get nothing at all.
"Every woman qualifies for the suit, but they have to have been damaged," said the class-action's lead attorney, Jonathan Schochor. "If they suffered no damages, it's the same as driving through a stop sign and not hitting anybody."
Levy worked at the Johns Hopkins-affiliated East Baltimore Medical Center clinic until he was fired in February 2013, after a female co-worker alerted hospital security to the tiny pen camera he wore around his neck. His suicide days later, and the revelation by police that he kept a trove of images, made news. Lawyers soon competed for patients, and their claims eventually were combined into the class action.
With Monday's settlement filing, a notice was sent to his patients explaining the next steps. The women can speak publicly at a "fairness hearing" on Sept. 19, where the judge, Sylvester B. Cox, also could finalize the settlement and approve legal fees.
Thirty-five percent would be roughly $66.5 million. Some experts say that's high, but not unheard of. Cox recently awarded lawyers 40 percent of a $37 million settlement with 273 patients of a cardiologist accused of performing unnecessary heart surgeries.
"The percentage typically declines as the amount goes up," said Alan Morrison, a class action expert at George Washington University Law School. "A 30 percent fee on $100,000 is one thing. A 30 percent fee on $190 million is something else."
Each woman seeking money must fill out a questionnaire and be interviewed by a team of forensic psychiatrists, post-traumatic stress specialists and attorneys. Their experiences, emotions and circumstantial factors will determine their level of trauma for the court, ranging from "severely negative experiences, perceptions or symptoms" to "moderate," ''mild" or "no identified" symptoms.
The women must describe how much time they spent with Levy, whether a nurse was present, and any sexual, verbal or physical abuse. Emotions count, including physical manifestations of stress such as nausea, anxiety and nightmares. Circumstantial factors include whether a woman has a history of sexual abuse or violence, and whether her health care has suffered.
"It's going to be kind of messy, but we cope with it" in class action settlements, said Geoffrey Hazard, an ethics expert at Hastings School of Law in San Francisco who is not involved in the case. "I assume women will be told they should report as truthfully as they can, and what their reactions were. Some people will have a fairly strong memory, some will be very articulate, some will not. It will be a mixture, but the law has to deal with the complexities of people, and we do the best we can."
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