In June 2007, Dr. Joseph Abate was charged with sexually abusing a patient during an examination for knee surgery. By November of that year, a total of 12 women had come forward with similar allegations of sexual assault during medical appointments.
When Abate went to trial in April of 2009, he faced a total of seven charges involving seven female patients for alleged sexual assaults during medical exams between 2003 and 2007. A mistrial was declared in that case on May 22, 2009.
In January 2010, Abate went to trial again. However, this time, prosecutors dropped 6 of the 7 charges for what they characterized as strategic reasons. Abate pleaded no contest in this case to one count of a prohibited act - lewdness. As part of this plea deal, he received a suspended sentence of 9 to 12 months in jail, two years on probation, and a lifetime ban from practicing medicine.
Last week, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a new law which removes the previous six-year statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits. Scott also signed another bill which extends the statute of limitations for manslaughter and sexual exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Survivors advocates have shown major support for this law, as survivors who had previously been unable to take civil action against their abusers can now do so. This new law also allows survivors to take legal action against institutions, companies, and organizations that enabled or failed to prevent child sexual abuse.
Attorney contributor Kim Dougherty helps survivors of doctor sexual abuse find justice in civil claims. Here is Kim with a few general thoughts on the legal options available to these survivors:
When a doctor is charged with sexually abusing a patient, it's crucial to consider the needs of the victim. The police and criminal justice system will handle the prosecution of the abuser, but the legal rights of victims don't end here. In many cases, survivors of sexual abuse by doctors have grounds for a lawsuit against their abuser, and in some cases, the facility where the abuse occurred.
With the lifting of the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse in Vermont, many survivors may now have the option to come forward and bring a lawsuit against their abuser. If you've been sexually abused by a medical professional and had hesitated to come forward because the six-year statute of limitations had passed, we suggest speaking with an experienced sex abuse survivors lawyer about your case.