Feb. 4, 2010 - The Medical Society of Delaware and two doctors – named in more than 30 civil lawsuits against former Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley – have been removed from the suits, but their relief could be temporary.
Dr. Carol Tavani and Dr. James Marvel and the medical society are expected be renamed in the suits on an amended complaint filed in Delaware Supreme Court.
Attorney Bruce Hudson, who represents most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said the amended complaint should be filed soon.
Besides the medical society and the doctors, the suits also name Bradley and Beebe Medical Center.
In the lawsuits, Beebe, the medical society, Tavani, Marvel and Dr. Lowell Scott were named for failing to report evidence that Bradley was sexually abusing his young patients. Bradley is awaiting a criminal trial in Superior Court in New Castle County on charges of rape and exploitation involving more than 100 children, all but one girls.
The lawsuits, which have been consolidated into one large class-action suit by the courts, alleged that Beebe, the medical society and doctors Tavani, Marvel and Scott’s failure to report information about Bradley’s alleged unprofessional conduct was a cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Attorneys for the medical society, Tavani and Marvel argued their clients owed no common law or actionable statutory duty to the plaintiffs to take any action to report Bradley’s misconduct to appropriate authorities.
In his judgment, Judge Joseph Slights III cited a difference between a moral obligation to report and a legal obligation to report. While the defendants may have had a moral obligation to report Bradley’s alleged actions, it does not necessarily mean they had a legal obligation when the defendants were not creating harm themselves, Slights said.
“While the moral implications of a failure to act in certain situations are compelling, particularly in cases involving child victims, Delaware courts have been careful to draw a bright line between moral obligation to act, which will not necessarily subject a defendant to liability for failing to act, and a legal obligation (or duty) to act, the breach of which will subject the defendant to tort liability,” Slights wrote.
Continuing, Slights said, “Society may well have every reason to be outraged by a party’s failure to act for the benefit of another. But it is another thing entirely to say that society’s outrage translates automatically to a right on the part of the alleged victim to compel the non-actor, through operation of law, to pay financial reparations.”
Slights said the plaintiffs did not state facts proving that Bradley had any sort of special relationship with the medical society or Tavani and Marvel.
Despite ruling in the defendants’ favor, Slights did leave the door open for the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Hudson said he plans to do exactly that, although it will double the length of the complaint.
According to Slights’ opinion, the plaintiffs’ complaint does not say how the medical society, Tavani and Marvel acted in a negligent manner.
However, he also allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint on appeal.
“It is difficult to imagine a set of facts more disturbing than those alleged in the plaintiffs’ complaint. If their allegations are proven, the court and the community will be confronted with the unthinkable reality that a Delaware physician systematically abused hundreds of his pediatric patients while in his medical office – an environment theretofore considered by most patients to be sheltered and staffed by society’s most compassionate professionals,” Slights said. “The allegations against the medical society defendants, while also disturbing, present a more complicated legal landscape.”