Judge Weighs Settlement in Del. Pediatrician Case - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Judge Weighs Settlement in Del. Pediatrician Case

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Earl Bradley Earl Bradley

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP)- A New Castle County Superior Court judge is considering whether to approve a $123 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of young children who were sexually abused by former Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley.
    
After hearing several hours of testimony Tuesday, Judge Joseph Slights III said he would issue a written decision by Monday.
    
Bradley, 59, is serving 14 life sentences for child rape after being convicted last year by a judge who viewed more than 13 hours of homemade videos showing sex crimes against more than 80 victims.
    
The settlement in the civil lawsuit would resolve claims against Beebe Medical Center, a southern Delaware hospital where Bradley had hospital privileges, the Medical Society of Delaware, and five physicians accused by the plaintiffs of not reporting suspicions about Bradley to authorities.
    
Witnesses testified that without the settlement, Beebe would be staring at bankruptcy while victims would face years of litigation, with no guarantee of any recovery and the very real risk of young children being compelled to talk about what happened to them, which former Pennsylvania judge Thomas Rutter said would be "extraordinarily traumatic."
    
"Each time the victim is called upon to remember ... it causes significant emotional response," said Rutter, who served as a settlement arbitrator in the bankruptcy of Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, which sought bankruptcy protection in 2009 because of liabilities stemming from abuse by pedophile priests.
    
Under the proposed settlement in the Bradley case, Rutter would be responsible for determining which claims have merit and for separating claimants into five categories, based upon the alleged harm suffered and the evidence presented. Children within each category would receive the same compensation, but it's unclear what the range of payments could be among categories.
    
"We all recognize that no amount of money will ever compensate some of these victims," said former state Supreme Court justice Joseph Walsh, who served as a mediator in the case.
    
"The law has limitations, but within the limitations of our system, this is a remarkable settlement," Walsh added.
    
Bruce Hudson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said more than 900 families believe they have a claim, but Alex Pires Jr., an attorney who helped represent Beebe and who serves on the Beebe Medical Foundation board, said he expects the final tally could approach 1,500.
    
Pires credited Beebe president and CEO Jeffrey Fried, who also testified Tuesday, for deciding not to fight the lawsuit but to try to get the hospital's insurance carriers to participate in a settlement.
    
The bulk of the settlement fund, about $112 million, comes from Beebe's insurance carriers, with a subsidiary of insurance giant American International Group Inc., contributing more than $70 million.  Beebe itself would contribute about $7.2 million in cash and $1 million worth of medical care to Bradley's victims over 15 years. Insurance carriers for the non-Beebe defendants would contribute about $3 million to the settlement.
    
James Murray, an attorney hired by Beebe who specializes in insurance coverage issues, said months of negotiations culminated with Walsh calling attorneys to Philadelphia in late June for two days of intense mediation. The talks appeared to break down for good when insurance carriers made a final offer of $110 million that plaintiffs' attorneys rejected. It was only because plaintiffs' attorneys stopped for a restroom break before getting on an elevator that they were still around to accept a last-second suggestion by one of the carriers to raise the offer, Murray said.
    
Near the end of Tuesday's hearing, three people whose families have been affected by the Bradley accepted the judge's invitation to give their thoughts.
    
One woman said she was concerned about the number of people who may file claims in the case simply because their children were treated by Bradley "when you have an eight-year-old threatening to kill herself."
    
"My kid's living it every day. That bothers me," she said.
    
Another woman said she thought attorneys did the best they could but that no amount of money would make things better. She told the judge her biggest concern was constantly seeing Bradley's photograph on television and in the newspapers and the emotional impact it has on her.
    
"They keep showing this pig's face on the television set whenever they discuss his name," she said, wondering if it were possible for the court to impose a gag order to prevent media outlets from showing Bradley's photograph.

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