After a USA TODAY article revealed the Cleveland Clinic kept surgeon Ryan Williams on staff after he was accused of raping two patients, the doctor is now under investigation by the Ohio Board of Medicine. The article highlighted the issue of confidential settlements, and the legal loopholes that allow surgeons who have been accused of a crime to remain on staff and keep allegations off of their records.
First, some quick background. Ryan Williams, a colorectal surgeon formerly of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, was accused of rape by two patients in 2008 and 2009. One was receiving a rectal exam when she was assaulted, and the other was under sedation and didn't remember what happened for several years. Police reports were filed in both cases. The USA TODAY article uncovered that the Cleveland Clinic was aware of the allegations and kept Williams on staff. Ultimately, Williams was never charged with a crime.
However, due to the attention from the article, an investigation has been opened by the Ohio Board of Medicine. Williams is not currently seeing patients at his new position after leaving the Cleveland Clinic.
The problem with confidentiality agreements
Over the past few months, there's been a lot of talk in Hollywood about the problem with sexual assault/harassment and confidential settlements. In many cases, confidential settlements act as a gag order that prevents the victim from speaking out about their experience, potentially setting up the attacker to repeat their behavior. The same can happen with cases of alleged medical malpractice.
If a patient ends up taking a settlement, they cannot publicly talk about what happened, or reveal the amount of the settlement. And, if the hospital takes over liability from a doctor accused of malpractice or assault, the accusation will never show up in the National Practitioner's Data Bank, a database of physicians which includes any disciplinary actions or charges against them.
Another issue with Williams' case—one of the women who accused and later sued him did so after the one-year statute of limitations had passed, so her lawsuit was filed as a “miscellaneous tort claim” and not malpractice. Because of these loose laws that allow unscrupulous doctors to get around the system, when Williams' contract at the Cleveland Clinic was not renewed, he was able to pass a background check and obtain a position at Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center.
He is now on paid administrative leave after USA TODAY brought the rape allegations to their attention.
Williams is denying the allegations. The Cleveland Clinic confirms they settled a civil case brought by one of the women. A spokesperson also noted that police investigated allegations from the second patient and did not find evidence anything occurred, although the incident she reported had happened five years prior. Williams also noted that he always had a chaperone with him while performing procedures, but a former assistant told the newspaper that it was not always possible to have someone in the room with him due to staffing issues.
As of this writing Williams' case is still under investigation.
The skilled Ohio and Kentucky medical malpractice lawyers of Crandall & Pera Law have successfully handled numerous medical malpractice cases. Please call our Ohio office at 877-686-8879, or in Kentucky at 877-651-7764. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a no-obligation consultation.