A hospital on Monday settled lawsuits with 32 people who say they were sexually abused by a prominent, now-dead doctor believed to have molested scores of children over three decades with a bogus human growth study.
The deal between the plaintiffs and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford came during the middle of jury deliberations in the first of more than 90 lawsuits involving the late Dr. George Reardon to go to trial. Terms of the settlements were not disclosed.
The hospital was accused of failing to properly monitor Reardon, who died in 1998 without ever facing criminal charges. St. Francis also was accused of failing to protect children from harm and of not confirming the validity of Reardon's study.
The abuse was revealed in 2007 when the owner of Reardon's former home in West Hartford opened a basement wall during a renovation project and found tens of thousands of slides and videos showing children in sexual acts and positions.
Police have identified 250 of Reardon's victims by name, but hundreds of other children in the pornographic images never came forward. Investigators believe Reardon victimized at least 500 children, but they also believe the number of victims could be in the thousands.
Police who interviewed the victims say many have struggled with broken relationships, substance-abuse problems, even suicide attempts.
New Haven lawyer Joel Faxon, who represents the 32 plaintiffs, said in a statement that his clients were pleased with the settlement and "happy to put this painful chapter of their lives behind them." He said the settlement comes after "four years of legal proceedings, five weeks of heart-wrenching testimony and two days of jury deliberation."
The plaintiff in the first case, known only as John Doe No. 2, was seeking up to $8 million in damages against the hospital, where Reardon rose to chief of endocrinology during his three decades there.
John Doe No. 2, a firefighter in his early 40s, said he and his brother were molested by Reardon at least 75 times when they were boys in the 1970s. He said he suffers from anxiety, depression and has trouble with personal relationships because of the abuse.
Other victims also testified at the trial, including a 50-year-old man who said Reardon took pictures of him and his sister performing sex acts together. The man, known only as Tim Doe, said he saw Reardon over a three-year span beginning in 1969 when he was about 8 years old.
Besides taking pictures, many victims also say Reardon touched them inappropriately. Most of the abuse occurred in Reardon's office at St. Francis, the plaintiffs say.
Hospital officials condemned Reardon's actions, but denied any responsibility for them.
"We believe that we have proven that Dr. Reardon was a master manipulator who deceived his patients, their parents and his colleagues," the hospital said in a statement. "We are prepared to prove that again in court, as necessary."
Lawyers involved with the case said the settlement was reached over the weekend, but no one would say what led to the deal.
"From the beginning of this tragedy related to the late Dr. Reardon, we have remained committed to resolving this issue as fairly as possible," the hospital statement read.
Timothy O'Keefe, a lawyer for 40 other plaintiffs, said his cases are still scheduled to go forward. He declined to comment on possible negotiations with the hospital.
Jury selection for the next trial is expected to begin May 24.
O'Keefe criticized St. Francis for taking the first case to trial in Waterbury Superior Court and then settling.
"We think it is disgraceful that the hospital and its insurers forced the plaintiff and several other victims to testify publicly about their experiences of being sexually abused and exploited at the hospital before presenting a fair potential resolution of this claim," O'Keefe said.
He added, "While it is a good thing that 32 cases have been resolved, there were several hundred children who were sexually abused and exploited at this hospital. The hospital still has a long way to go to fully compensate all of these child sex abuse victims."
A hospital lawyer, Michael Shea, declined to respond to O'Keefe's remarks or comment on whether more settlements are in the works.
The abuse began in the 1950s, when Reardon was a young doctor in Albany, N.Y., and continued in Connecticut through the 1980s, authorities say. He resigned in 1993 amid molestation accusations, but he was never charged.
In 1995, the state Medical Examining Board agreed to drop disciplinary proceedings against Reardon because of abuse allegations in exchange for Reardon agreeing to never practice medicine again in Connecticut or elsewhere.
The officers who sifted through the photographs describe heartbreaking images: Children posed in the nude, often in sexually suggestive poses or with objects inserted into their bodies. Some claim Reardon forced them to simulate sex acts with other children and manipulated their genitalia.
The victims came from across Connecticut's capital area through referrals, but they were concentrated in the affluent suburb of West Hartford.