Missouri Lawyers Media
Verdicts & Settlements: Hospital settles with former psych patient
By Allison Retka
October 10, 2011
In 2009, the Missouri Division of Professional Registration suspended the license of the psychiatrist, named in court records as Dr. Kenneth Spaulding, for having inappropriate relationships with patients. The woman settled confidentially with Spaulding last year, said one of her attorneys, Chad C. Lucas.
The woman checked in to Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital in March 2007. She sought in-patient treatment at the facility for issues stemming from a suicide attempt.
Her attorney withheld her name, and, while Missouri Lawyers Weekly verified the case, the newspaper decided not to publish her name given the circumstances involved.
The woman claimed that during her stay Spaulding began making inappropriate comments to her. She left the facility but returned the next month for further treatment. Then, the woman said what started as sexual banter with Spaulding escalated into a physical relationship. The emotional fallout from the relationship prompted a second suicide attempt, Lucas said. She afterward sought psychiatric treatment at a facility in Texas.
She then sued Spaulding and Two Rivers.
“The basis for that claim [against Two Rivers] was that they knew or definitely should have known that this doctor had dangerous sexual proclivities and should not have been allowed to see or treat vulnerable patients at Two Rivers,” Lucas said.
Hospital staff testified in depositions that Spaulding made inappropriate sexual comments to staff and patients, Lucas said. The plaintiff retained a hospital credentialing expert who testified that Spaulding’s credentialing file should have contained all complaints made about the psychiatrist.
“You write it down,” Lucas said. “You don’t have to fire the doctor over it, but you have to have a complete file in order to do a proper evaluation of him when the time comes.
“A bunch of employees testified about complaints made against him, and it’s nowhere in his file. It makes you wonder what’s going on. ”
B.K. Christopher, a Kansas City attorney for Spaulding, didn’t return a message seeking comment.
Patricia Mullins, the Kansas City defense attorney for Two Rivers, said the hospital had no notice of Spaulding’s improper behavior.
“This person’s complaint was the first notice we had of any sexual contact of any type by this doctor,” Mullins said.
She said in the lead-up to trial, Two Rivers only faced a claim for negligent retention. A judge already ruled Spaulding was an independent contractor, clearing the hospital of vicarious liability for his actions, she said.
Lucas said settlement talks sped up after he filed a motion for sanctions against Two Rivers for failing to turn over documented complaints against Spaulding. A judge never ruled on the motion because Two Rivers turned over the document, including a Post-It note phone message. The message recorded a complaint called into the hospital stating that Spaulding was a “molester,” Lucas said.
“The one document really set everything off at the end,” Lucas said. “It really raised a lot of questions in our minds as to whether Two Rivers was providing us all the information they had about this. ”
He said had the case progressed to trial, the judge preliminarily had ruled that at least two other patients who sued over Spaulding’s conduct could testify on the issue of punitive damages.
“We settled because the plaintiff finally came to our number,” Mullins, the defense attorney, said. “We had been involved in settlement negotiations prior to that. ”
Negligent retention and supervision
Court: Jackson County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 0916-CV08140/June 23, 2011
Judge: James D. Youngs
Plaintiff’s Experts: John C. Shershow, New York (hospital credentialing); Bradley D. Grinage, Lawrence, Kan. (psychology)
Defendant’s Experts: Neil Kochenour, Tucson, Ariz. (hospital credentialing); Marilyn Hutchinson, Kansas City (psychology)
Special Damages: $164,000 for medical bills incurred during two stays at Two Rivers and subsequent stay at a mental health facility in Texas
Caption: Confidential v. Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital Inc.
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Bradley D. Kuhlman and Chad C. Lucas, The Kuhlman Law Firm, Kansas City
Defendant’s Attorney: Patricia Mullins, Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Hofer & Roper, Kansas City