Flushing hospital nurse wins $15M sex abuse suit

| tcimino@queenscourier.com |

Janet Bianco “is a woman whose daughter is getting a Ph.D. and getting married and can’t even enjoy it,” according to her attorney, Rick Ostrove, of Leeds, Morelli and Brown.

Bianco is the 55-year-old nurse who was recently awarded a record $15 million by a Queens Supreme Court jury after they found she had been sexually assaulted and harassed by Dr. Matthew Miller at Flushing Hospital Medical Center. She “thought she was strong enough to handle it herself and also felt the hospital knew,” according to Ostrove, lead trial counsel.

Repeated calls to Miller’s attorney went unanswered as of press time.

The jury of four women and two men decided on the multi-million dollar amount, as well as attorney’s fees, because they believed the unwanted sexual advances, which began in the early 1990s and culminated in a sexual assault in 2001 – “dramatically altered the course of her life,” said Ostrove. It is the highest award to a single victim in New York and the second highest in the country, he indicated.

“Any jurors who sat through that trial would have come to the same determination,” said the attorney, whose associate Tom Ricotta also tried the case. “Other non-party witnesses verified what my client said.”

Half of the judgment amount is to be paid by Flushing Hospital, the other half by Miller, 61, who was reportedly punished twice for inappropriate sexual advances.

Ostrove said his client suffered emotional trauma from 2001 to when the trail began – eight years – and that Bianco has depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a compulsive disorder, which includes a need to lock doors and sit with her back to the wall “so that no one can come from behind.”

For years, he said, she hid what was happening from her daughter, though her husband knew and became “tremendously upset,” especially after the assault, said Ostrove, who noted that Bianco “got louder and louder in her objections [to Miller] and complained to nurse managers and in front of charge nurses.”

Since Bianco filed suit, other alleged victims have reportedly come forward.

Flushing Hospital, which is appealing the ruling, issued a statement that read, “The hospital intends to appeal a recent jury award in a civil case originating in 2001 involving a physician in private practice with admitting privileges at the hospital who was not on the hospital staff. The hospital believes the jury’s decision in the case was incorrect and intends to present its arguments in an appeal.”

“Every legal ruling went in the hospital’s favor,” Ostrove charged.

Ole Pedersen, vice president of public affairs for Flushing Hospital, told The Courier that Miller was a medical staff member – not an employee – and, as such, there are by-laws in place, which were followed, he said.

“They decided they needed to take further action,” said Pedersen, who noted that New York Hospital Queens had been running Flushing Hospital for most of the time during which the alleged abuse took place.

The doctor was going to be suspended and reported to the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, but he resigned, according to Pedersen. Miller lost admitting privileges in 2001.

Pedersen said that Flushing Hospital, as part of the hiring process and annual reorientation, has education in place regarding sexual harassment.

“All employees are expected to report harassment incidents and [we] act on complaints immediately,” said Pedersen. “We take a string stand on those issues.”

Ostrove disputes this, however.

“Dr. Miller took the stand and said he never received any sexual harassment training,” he said. “In the employee handbook sexual harassment is addressed in three or four sentences.”

He continued, “They may have some training now, but what did they have before the lawsuit? The answer is nothing. If they [Flushing Hospital] had done the right thing in the first place, they would have taken care of this a long time ago – and for a lot less.”