By Ken Stone
Three weeks after being accused of covertly taping undressed women without their consent, Sharp Grossmont Hospital faces a second major lawsuit.
This time, it’s a potential class action by attorneys who also represented a group of women against Harvey Weinstein. The same firm recently won a pending settlement on behalf of female students and alumnae of USC sexually harassed and abused by Dr. George Tyndall.
The new suit seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering, and compensatory and punitive damages — plus “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.” A jury trial is sought.According to recent investigations, the La Mesa hospital secretly videotaped more than 1,800 women, who were “unconscious, undressed on operating room tables, undergoing medical procedures” and captured in more than 6,966 video clips.
The hidden cameras were installed in mid-July 2012 in all three operating rooms of the Women’s Health Center, said reports. The cameras operated full time until June 30, 2013.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Diego federal court, says the hospital failed to obtain patients’ consent to record any of the footage, which includes caesarean births, birth complications, dilatation and curettage to resolve miscarriages, hysterectomies, sterilizations and other medical procedures.
Asked for comment, a hospital spokesman shared a link to an April 4 “Letter to Our San Diego Community.”
“In 2016, a lawsuit alleging privacy violations and other claims stemming from the video recording was filed against Sharp HealthCare and Sharp Grossmont Hospital,” wrote Chris Howard, president and CEO of Sharp HealthCare.
“Since then, other cases have been filed. The cases remain active and understandably, Sharp is unable to comment further about them.”
But Howard said Sharp Grossmont is taking “extensive measures” to protect patient privacy.
“The videos in our possession are kept in a secured safe in our Security Department,” he said. “We have provided copies of videos to third parties in response to legal processes or specific patient authorizations or requests.”
Howard said Sharp apologized for any distress felt — an apology noted in the lawsuit.
“We can assure you this surveillance method is no longer in use,” he said, “and we have made changes in our protocols to ensure this situation is not repeated.”
In a news release, the firm also recruited plaintiffs: “If you underwent a surgical procedure in the Women’s Health Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital between July 17, 2012 and June 30, 2013, find out more about the lawsuit and your rights.:”Amber Snodgrass of El Cajon, the suit’s named plaintiff, gave birth at the hospital by caesarean section during the period cameras were in the operating room at Women’s Health Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
“Plaintiff did not consent and would not have consented to being recorded during this procedure, has suffered severe emotional distress upon learning of this gross invasion of privacy, and has been damaged as a result of Defendants’ actions,” said the 23-page complaint.
Snodgrass has not previously been named as a woman involved in the taping.
“In a further breach of trust and duty, after the recordings were completed, Sharp stored the files on computers accessible by multiple users, some without password protection,” the suit states. “Sharp also allegedly destroyed some recordings, but has not confirmed when or how it deleted the files, whether anyone took the files, or whether the files are nonetheless recoverable.”
The lawsuit brings various charges against Sharp Grossmont Hospital including invasion of privacy, gross negligence, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent failure to warn, train or educate, and violation of California penal codes related to videotaping and recording.
Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, said in a statement: “These patients suffered a severe breach of their basic rights to privacy and respect at a time when they were at their most vulnerable – seeking medical attention and likely unconscious during a serious surgical procedure. The hospital’s use of cameras is a gross invasion of privacy and shameful behavior.”
Berman said physicians swear to respect the privacy of patients and their right to confidentiality.
“We believe this conduct falls well below the standard set by the Hippocratic Oath, and below basic core human tenets of respect and dignity. We intend to fight aggressively for the rights of women who were secretly filmed.”
According to the lawsuit, the hospital claims it installed the cameras to catch a suspected doctor stealing drugs from the operating rooms, but the hospital admitted that it knew the film would not be enough to confront the suspected doctor.
The existence of the recordings only became known to a limited number of people when the Medical Board of California began an investigation of the suspected doctor in 2015, said the law firm.
Shortly after installing the cameras, the hospital’s then-director of security told its then-CEO the video evidence was not sufficient to confront the suspected doctor. However, the CEO instructed the Director of Security to continue taking the videos, the firm said.
“The hospital kept the hidden cameras running for several months after it concluded its investigation of the suspected doctor,” Berman said. “Unquestionably, Sharp Grossmont must be held accountable.”
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