DOVER, Del. – A judge approved a $123 million settlement Monday in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of young children who were sexually abused by former Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley.
The settlement approved by New Castle County Superior Court Judge Joseph Slights III resolves 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.
"Although no amount of monetary or non-monetary compensation can atone for Dr. Bradley's atrocities, the settlement approved today provides Dr. Bradley's victims with means by which to facilitate the healing process," wrote Slights, who held a fairness hearing on the settlement last week.
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.
Slights approved the settlement in the civil lawsuit after attorneys for the plaintiffs agreed to reduce their fees to 22.5 percent of the proposed settlement, down from 25 percent. Attorneys will receive about $27.8 million in fees and another $2.1 million in expenses, leaving about $90 million available for victims of Bradley. Beebe also has agreed to provide up to $1 million in medical care over 15 years to plaintiffs included in the lawsuit.
The judge agreed with attorneys that without the settlement, Beebe would be staring at bankruptcy while victims would face years of costly and uncertain litigation involving a "race to the courthouse" and young children would be compelled to talk about what happened to them.
"The settlement provides a sizable fund to compensate all victims injured by Dr. Bradley's abuse through an orderly claims administration process," Slights wrote in a 54-page opinion. "And it marks a welcomed early end to litigation that, once fully activated, would have caused great distress to class members, given the tender age of the victims and the vulgar nature of Dr. Bradley's treatment of them."
Thomas Rutter, a former Pennsylvania judge who served as a settlement arbitrator in the bankruptcy of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington — a case prompted by liabilities stemming from abuse by pedophile priests — will serve as claims administrator in the Bradley case.
Rutter will 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.
Criteria for the five injury categories are:
— clear and convincing evidence of sexual intercourse;
— significant evidence of sexual abuse;
— evidence revealing a probability of sexual abuse;
— no evidence that would allow one to conclude that the child was abused;
— evidence that would allow one reasonably to conclude that the child was not abused.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs have received more than 900 potential claims. The deadline to submit a claim is Dec. 14, but attorneys have agreed to allow a late-filing period of 90 days for claimants who can demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. They also agreed to set aside $3 million from attorney fees to establish a fund to cover latent injury claims. Those claims would be allowed to be filed over the next five years on behalf of children who appear healthy now but later develop symptoms requiring medical or psychiatric treatment.