Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - As the criminal case against accused child abuser Dr. Earl Bradley slowly moves toward a trial, civil suits against the Lewes pediatrician continue to mount.
Nearly 40 lawsuits have been brought against Bradley – who has been charged with more than 400 counts of rape and exploitation involving 103 children – in New Castle and Sussex County Superior Court, with more possibly on the way.
Leading the parade of lawsuits are attorneys Bruce Hudson, Ben Castle and Craig Karsnitz with 35 suits among them. Lewes attorney Chase Brockstedt and Rehoboth Beach lawyer Michael Carr have each filed separate suits. Carr was not available to provide the exact number of suits he has filed.
The suits reviewed to date are similar. Bradley, along with Beebe Medical Center, the Medical Society of Delaware and doctors James Marvel, Carol Tavani and Lowell Scott have been named as defendants.
With some exceptions, the suits all allege that Beebe, the doctors and the medical society failed to report information they had about sexual abuse by Bradley. Brockstedt’s suit differs, as it alleges that had Beebe not referred a victim to Bradley, the child would have never been sexually abused.
Speaking about his clients, Karsnitz said, “We’re doing what we can to hold those responsible for not monitoring Bradley they way he should have been.”
Hudson said the doctors were named in his clients’ suits because Bradley’s sister had contacted Tavani. Doctors Marvel and Scott also discussed the case with Bradley’s sister but did not report Bradley’s conduct, Hudson said. All three doctors had a legal obligation to report, he said.
“Bradley’s sister went to great efforts to make sure that his instability, his emotional and mental incompetence and the risk he posed to his patients was reported to the correct people,” Hudson said.
He said Bradley’s sister reported her brother’s conduct five years ago, but no follow-up was done.
“She was very concerned about Dr. Bradley’s own instability. It’s a brother she loved and was concerned about. She could see the deterioration in his emotional and mental state,” Hudson said. “Tragically, nothing was done. The board was never contacted by the state medical society. As a result, if they had been contacted, all these children who were molested and abused after that could have been spared.”
The doctors have all refused to comment while the litigation is pending. Beebe has also declined to comment.
The initial wave of suits came after victims were identified through video recordings Bradley made of himself molesting children. Hudson said more recent suits have come after parents have been shown headshots of the children for identification.
“When they get over the initial shock and numbness, they usually contact us for information to make an informed decision how to go forward,” Hudson said.
Damages for victims
All the suits filed seek punitive damages and pretrial and posttrial judgments. How they will be paid is another matter. In January, the Attorney General’s Office essentially froze Bradley’s assets.
“Well, that’s a bridge we cross when we get there, but presumably, all of these entities all are covered by insurance policies,” said Castle. He said each of the defendants would be covered by various insurance policies, such as medical malpractice insurance. “What we would primarily like to see is all these children properly compensated for what they’ve been through,” said Karsnitz. Also at issue is who will be representing Bradley in the civil cases.
While Bradley is being represented by the Public Defender’s Office for his criminal case, Hudson said they have yet to find out who will represent Bradley in civil court. “No attorney has entered formally,” Castle said. He said in typical medical malpractice cases, it is generally the insurance carrier that hires defense counsel.
Next steps Castle said the next step in civil litigation is for the judge to arrange a scheduling conference with attorneys for both sides to work out how the process will move forward. Hudson said how quickly things move forward depends on whether attorneys reach a settlement in any of the cases. If there is no settlement, all suits have requested a civil jury trial.
“I can’t imagine any of the doctors or the hospital or any of the insurance companies really wanting to try this kind of a case, just because of the outrage factor. But if we have to go all the way to trial, then we are probably looking at least two years,” Hudson said.
Karsnitz added, “The criminal proceedings will probably have to be completed before we can get to where we need to go. For no other reason than I would suspect that if we tried to take a deposition of Bradley before his criminal proceedings are resolved, he’ll invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not answer our questions.
” The legal process will also be prolonged, Hudson said, because there are so many attorneys, defendants and plaintiffs involved in the suits. Both sides could reach a settlement, which Castle said would be done on a case-by-case basis. He said settlement could come days, even hours before a scheduled jury trial. “In order for a settlement to be successful, there has to be something in it for both sides,” Hudson said.
“Both sides use what they think a jury might come back with.” The benefits of a settlement are that it resolves the suit and saves the expense of going to trial. The burden of proof in a Delaware civil trial is more likely than not, Castle said. Hudson added that Delaware is one of only three states that have a 12-person civil jury that must come back with a unanimous verdict.
“For plaintiffs it is a very high bar, in terms of what is required,” he said.
Bradley is awaiting trial at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.