Sexual abuse by Doctors

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    doctor patient abuse

    Patients put their trust in their doctors and other healthcare providers and expect a level of professionalism. They expect to be treated, and that their medical providers will not harm them. 

    However, some healthcare professionals take advantage of this situation and commit sexual abuse. When this occurs, you need to know how to handle such a sensitive situation and what your legal options are should you decide to take action. 

    Sexual abuse by a doctor of a patient gives rise to a claim against the doctor. Physicians are in a relationship of trust with their patients and are not permitted to have sex with them. Consent is not a good defense for the case. 

    I have handled many cases against physicians who have violated this trust and had sexual relations with a patient. These personal injury cases are complicated and require an experienced Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida personal injury attorney, such as myself, Jack G. Bernstein, to obtain justice for the emotional suffering caused by the doctor’s breach of trust.

    Sexual Abuse vs. Sexual Assault

    There is one common question people have: Is sexual abuse the same as sexual assault? Most people use these terms interchangeably. While they both involve unwanted sexual acts committed toward another, they do have slightly different meanings. 

    Sexual Abuse

    Sexual abuse is the term used when sexual acts are committed against a minor under the age of 18. It is when someone over the age of 18 forces or entices a minor to engage in sexual interactions, regardless of consent. 

    In Florida, minors cannot consent to sexual activities with adults unless they meet the criteria as outlined in Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law. This allows a person aged 16 or 17 to consent to sexual activities with someone who is 16 to 23 years old. 

    However, when a person of authority, such as a physician, uses their position to engage in sexual activities with a minor, it can still be viewed as sexual abuse, even when consent was given, and even when meeting the criteria for Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law. 

    Sexual Assault

    Sexual assault, on the other hand, is the term used when sexual acts are committed against another adult. When most people hear this term, they automatically assume it means the individual was raped. 

    However, sexual assault involves any type of unwanted touching, groping, and other behaviors of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment could also be a form of sexual assault. For example, making a verbal comment of a sexual nature could be viewed as sexual assault if it makes you feel uncomfortable. 

    Please note: We are using the term sexual abuse interchangeably to mean both the sexual abuse of minors and the sexual assault of adults. 

    What medical professionals can commit sexual abuse? 

    Doctors are just one medical professional who can commit sexual abuse against their patients. Sexual abuse can be committed by any healthcare professional in any healthcare setting, including:

    • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
    • Nurses
    • Nursing Assistants
    • Medical Assistants
    • Anesthesiologist
    • Chiropractors
    • Osteopaths
    • Physical Therapists
    • Cosmetic Surgeons
    • Home Health Care Aids
    • Dentists
    • Obstetricians
    • Urologists
    • Gynecologists
    • Pediatricians
    • X-Ray and Imaging Technicians

    Essentially, anyone in a healthcare setting responsible for patient care could commit sexual abuse. 

     

    What is the criteria for sexual abuse by a medical professional?

    While many accusations of sexual abuse by a medical professional include serious allegations of sexual penetration and rape without consent, they are not the only criteria for sexual abuse. To determine whether a healthcare provider committed sexual abuse against you, you need to understand what types of acts are considered sexual abuse. 

    In general, any non-consensual and unwanted sexual contact or remarks of a sexual nature could be construed as sexual assault and could include:

    • Restraining the patient in any manner to engage in sexual acts with them.
    • Touching the patient with medical instruments in a sexual manner.
    • Touching the patient with one’s hands in a sexual manner.
    • Sedating the patient to engage in sexual acts.
    • Performing examinations of the sexual regions when not needed.
    • Performing sexual acts while examing sexual areas that go beyond what would be considered a routine examination. 
    • Exposing oneself in a sexual manner to the patient, with or without removing one’s clothing.
    • Making sexual gestures or sexual innuendos towards the patient.
    • Fondling or groping one’s sexual organs intentionally in front of the patient.
    • Fondling or groping the patient’s sexual organs. 
    • Engaging in self-gratifying sexual acts, such as masturbation, in the patient’s presence. 
    • Attempting to masturbate or sexually arouse the patient. 

    Furthermore, any type of behavior of sexual nature that makes the patient feel uncomfortable could be sexual abuse. 

    What is the psychological impact of sexual abuse by a medical professional?

    Sexual assault by someone you trust can have lasting impacts on your mental health. In addition, you can experience trust issues with others, including your spouse or significant other, children, family members, and friends.

    Common emotions associated with sexual assault include:

    • Confusion
    • Shame
    • Guilt
    • Embarrassment
    • Anger

    It is common not to want to tell others because you may feel upset at yourself for not stopping the sexual assault. You may also be worried that others will possibly blame you, even though it is never the victim’s fault. 

    You may experience a sense of fear when placed in a medical setting. You could be scared to see any type of medical professional, even when you need medical care. You could also be at risk for mental health disorders, including:

    • Anxiety Disorders
    • Depression
    • Substance Use Disorders
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Eating Disorders

    In addition, you could experience problems sleeping and want to isolate yourself away from others socially. You may even notice you are having thoughts of self-harm.  

    No matter what feelings and emotions you are experiencing, it is important to find support through a support group or by speaking to a mental health professional. Thanks to the advent of telehealth services, you can obtain mental health treatment from the comfort of your home to help alleviate any fears of going to a healthcare facility. 

    How to report sexual abuse?

    You have a few different options to report sexual abuse. First, you could file a formal complaint with law enforcement and initiate a criminal sexual assault investigation. Your next option is to file a personal injury claim for sexual abuse by a medical professional. Your last option is to file a formal complaint with the state’s medical board. 

    You could even file a report using all three options. However, you should learn more about what to expect with each one to help you decide what is best for you. 

    Filing a Formal Complaint

    The police will conduct an investigation into the matter. If you have any supporting evidence, they will collect it from you. Once you file the complaint, you cannot take it back or say you changed your mind later.

    A formal criminal charge will be filed against the healthcare professional if the investigation concludes your allegations were accurate. They will be arrested, brought in for questioning, and arraigned in criminal court. 

    They could face imprisonment and fines if found guilty of sexual assault. According to Florida Statutes 775.082, 775.083, 775.084, 794.0115, and 921.141, second-degree sexual assault is punishable with fines up to $10,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. In addition, if one is found guilty of a life felony or capital sexual assault, they could be fined up to $15,000 and be sentenced to life in prison

    Filing a Personal Injury Claim

    Filing a formal criminal charge can be very difficult and challenging for many victims of sexual assault. Not only could they have to appear in court as a witness for the prosecution, but the crime and court proceedings also become public knowledge. 

    Many victims are not in a place where they always file criminal charges. Therefore, they often consider filing a personal injury claim for sexual abuse by a medical professional. This type of proceeding is a civil matter. 

    In many cases, the healthcare professional will want to settle to keep the matter private. While the medical professional will not go to jail or have a criminal record, they will have to pay you monetary compensation for the sexual abuse. 

    Filing with the State’s Medical Board

    Filing a complaint with the state’s medical board also triggers an investigation. If the health professional is found guilty of sexual abuse, they could face serious fines, lose their license, and be barred from practicing medicine in the state. They would also have to face the public embarrassment of the incident. 

    As you can see, each of these options has its own consequences and outcomes. If you are unsure which one to pursue, it can be beneficial to speak with one of our sexual abuse lawyers first. 

    Why should I consult with a personal injury lawyer?

    It is important that you hire a sexual abuse lawyer with experience in handling cases against doctors, psychologists, and healthcare professionals. After successfully resolving many cases where a doctor sexually abused the patient, I understand the difficult circumstances involved and the need to keep the matter confidential, and for a fast and successful settlement. 

    Sexual abuse by a doctor (this includes where a doctor has sex with a patient who consented) generally has a short statute of limitation, which significantly increases the importance of hiring an experienced Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida Personal Injury Lawyer. You have two years to file a case in court against a doctor under the Malpractice Statute for the doctor’s sexual abuse of the patient.

    Who is financially responsible for sexual abuse injury claims?

    Since a Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida physician who has sex with a patient has “intentionally acted,” – which is different for a case where the doctor is negligent in his care of a patient – his malpractice insurance will not cover him when he is a sole practitioner or the owner of the medical facility. 

    If the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida doctor who sexually abuses his patient is an employee of a hospital or other medical facility, the malpractice insurance of the group will cover the claim. This is an important factor since the doctor who has sex with his patient and is not covered by insurance will hire an attorney and ultimately pay the settlement or verdict out of his own pocket. 

    How like is a settlement in a sexual abuse injury claim?

    My experience has shown that doctors who have sexual relations with a patient will hire a prominent lawyer to defend them because they are at great risk. They will deny they have risk or that they are concerned about the matter! 

    Florida doctors will generally settle quickly and fairly once I get involved, when they know evidence exists to prove sexual relations occurred. If they do not, they face the risk of a larger loss of money from a jury. 

    Additionally, they want to keep the sexual relations confidential to avoid harm from public knowledge in the newspapers or on television. They also want to prevent patients from learning of the sexual incident(s) which can affect their future business.

    Furthermore, they want to keep their family from learning about the sexual incident(s) which can cause a divorce or harm the family. They want to keep the Medical Board from receiving a complaint from the patient that could affect their license. They need to stop the attorney fees the attorney defending them will charge.

    Lastly, a doctor who has sexual relations with his patient will want to prevent our firm from filing a lawsuit in the Circuit Court since that creates a public record of what happened. So, reaching a settlement is highly probable, given these factors. 

    Situations where the Florida doctor has sexual relations with a patient

    Sudden unexpected sexual advance by a physician

    Doctors who are examining a patient usually bring an assistant into the room while conducting the physical exam to avoid the appearance of a sexually inappropriate exam. Medical facilities typically have a procedure in place where a male physician only examines a patient in the presence of an assistant. 

    However, when they fail to follow these procedures, it can create a situation for an unexpected sexual advance against the patient. The best evidence of a physician’s sexual abuse would be his semen on your clothes or a tissue, which would be crucial evidence and typically would lead to a settlement.

    It is much more difficult to prove the case when the doctor suddenly touches the woman on her breasts, or as in one case we handled, her vagina, leaving no physical evidence and without any witnesses.

    Sexual advances by a Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida doctor leading to sex

    Since the physician is in a position of trust, he is not allowed to have sex with his patient. However, some doctors will start an affair with one or more of their patients. They might request sex in his office or want to meet you at a hotel. 

    If evidence exists that the doctor reserved a room at a hotel with his patient, the receipt on his credit card can help to show that there were sexual relations. We can get his credit card statement to prove it. You can also save emails and text messages from physicians, which provide evidence that can help to settle the case.

    Evidence to prove The Florida Doctor Sexual Abuse

    Your Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida personal injury lawyer needs to order all the medical records as evidence that a physician-patient relationship existed. A background check of the doctor might reveal a prior setting where he had sexual relations with a patient.

    All texts, letters, and emails you have that substantiate the sexual relations between the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida doctor and his patient should be given to the Florida personal injury attorney. 

    The sexual abuse case against a Florida doctor who has sexual relations with his patient falls within the patient-doctor relationship. As such, there is a requirement before filing a complaint against the doctor that an affidavit from another physician be attached to the complaint stating the facts which show that having sex with a patient is malpractice. This is a mandatory requirement, or the judge will dismiss the case under Florida personal injury law.

    Why should I not take action myself?

    It takes an experienced Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida sexual abuse lawyer using his judgment and experience to decide the best strategy to get your case resolved. It is best not to do anything before allowing the Florida personal injury attorney to work on your claim. 

    On some occasions, victims of abuse might file complaints with the licensing board or send a letter to the wife of the doctor informing her of the doctor and patient sex. They may also sometimes try to negotiate their own case. 

    Once you tell a medical licensing agency, the doctor’s family, or the general public about the sexual relations, it becomes more difficult to reach a settlement. Once the doctor’s family finds out, he might be served with a divorce action by his wife. Then, it becomes more difficult for the physician to pay the money.

    Our best leverage many times is the confidentiality the doctor wishes to maintain by paying a fair settlement prior to a lawsuit or before any adverse publicity arises. 

    Litigation of the Medical Professional Sexual Abuse Case

    Before filing a lawsuit to recover monetary damages for the suffering caused by sexual relations with a doctor, the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida personal injury lawyer must have the pertinent medical records, important facts, and the affidavit of a doctor expert. 

    The physician must be willing to testify that the sexual relations between the doctor and his patient fell below the normal standard of care for the doctor. (This seems obvious, but we are required to have testimony from a doctor that having sex was below the standard of care).

    Litigation of a sexual abuse case against a medical professional is complicated and will usually be defended by an experienced and prominent defense lawyer. It is wise to hire an experienced Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida personal injury attorney and litigation firm to fight for justice. 

    At Bernstein and Maryanoff, we have extensive experience litigating medical professional sexual abuse claims and malpractice cases. We also have the financial backing to finance these cases, which are very costly.

    Prior to the jury or judge trial on any medical professional sexual abuse claim and malpractice case in Florida, it is standard to have a mandatory mediation with a judge that might get your case settled without a trial.

    Defenses of the Doctor-Patient Sexual Abuse Claim

    The defense attorney will typically deny the sexual relations took place. If you have physical evidence, such as semen, texts, or emails, this defense will not work. 

    The Florida defense attorney will allege that the patient consented to have sex with the doctor. This is a weak defense. Doctors cannot have sex with a patient. It is against the Florida Statute Law that prohibits it. 

    The doctor is in a very weak position if sex took place with his patient in his office. Sometimes the doctor makes the appointment as the last one of the day for that patient in an attempt to be alone in the office with them

    The next defense is usually that the patient is trying to extort money by making up a story about having sexual relations with the doctor. If there is physical evidence, as I mentioned above, this defense will not work. 

    Physical descriptions of the medical professional’s private parts might help to prove the sex happened. You have a right to monetary compensation for the violation by the doctor and your right not to have been put in a situation that led to sex with them

    The doctor will usually say they do not have enough money to settle because of their other financial obligations. These defenses are not very strong. If you have the physical evidence to prove the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida doctor had sex with you, they will have to settle your case or face the consequences mentioned above.

    Is a personal injury claim worth my time?

    Sexual abuse by doctors and healthcare professionals is unacceptable behavior. We understand you have been through a difficult time, and this can be a sensitive subject to discuss with others. 

    We want to let you know we are caring, compassionate, and understanding of your situation and will maintain confidentiality whenever possible. Part of the monetary compensation you could receive could help pay for sexual abuse therapy, your mental anguish, loss of wages, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering. 

    While we cannot undo the victimization you experienced, we can help you get the monetary compensation you deserve. Most importantly, there are no upfront legal fees or expenses, and we provide a confidential initial free consultation to help you make informed decisions. 

    Additional Sexual Assault Resources and Information

    Sources: 

    Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” Law. (2011).

    FLA STAT. § 775.082 (2022).

    FLA STAT. § 775.083 (2022).

    FLA STAT. § 775.084 (2022).

    FLA STAT. § 794.0115 (2022).

    FLA STAT. § 921.141 (2022).