Family settled with Hacienda HealthCare doctor for $15 million.
An incapacitated woman was raped at the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, Arizona, and gave birth unexpectedly in December 2018. This month, a judge approved a $15 million settlement against a doctor at the care center in a lawsuit filed by the woman’s parents. The settlement made on behalf of Dr. Phillip Gear, who cared for the woman for 26 years while she lived at Hacienda Healthcare, was accepted. But the insurance company for Gear, who died in 2020, said in court papers “it has no obligation to pay the amount,” stating “the doctor’s policy didn’t cover claims arising from a sexual act.”
The woman had been in a vegetative state since childhood. Her parents sued the state of Arizona, Gear, and another doctor who cared for her, Dr. Thanh Nguyen. The State settled last year for $7.5. million. Nguyen also resolved claims last summer for an undisclosed amount. Hacienda Healthcare agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount prior to the lawsuit in 2019.
Judge Theodore Campagnolo concluded “Gear’s treatment of the woman had fallen below the standard of care by failing to diagnose her pregnancy and regularly examine her.” The judge said, “requests by the woman’s mother to have only female employees tend to her daughter weren’t followed.” Campagnolo also added that “evidence that the incapacitated woman was the victim of numerous sexual assaults was undisputed in the civil case.”
The pregnancy was discovered when an employee was changing the woman’s clothing and noticed she was delivering a child. Employees had no idea she was pregnant. The birth of the child initiated a probe by state agencies which found safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated, and lead to the resignation of Hacienda’s chief executive.
The DNA from Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, matched a sample taken from the woman’s son. Sutherland was terminated after he was arrested and relinquished his nursing license. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. He was not named in the lawsuit. The child is not being cared for by the woman’s parents.
When the patient was around 2 years old, “she suffered a near drowning that deprived her brain of oxygen, though there also was testimony that she had congenital issues, such as seizure disorders, from shortly after her birth,” the judge wrote, indicating the exact cause of her vegetative state is unknown. Campagnolo said, “medical records showed Gear didn’t conduct regular examinations of the woman for at least three years before he was transferred in September 2018…Even though the woman’s mother had requested that her daughter be cared for by only women, evidence shows Sutherland and other men had cared for her over the years.”
Gear’s insurance agency argued he wasn’t the woman’s primary care physician when she gave birth and couldn’t be held responsible. “The former fact is accurate, and the second fact is arguable,” Campagnolo wrote. “However, Dr. Gear’s liability was not limited to one sexual assault and the birth. Gear had known since 2002 that there were sexual abuse allegations that could have included the patient in question.”