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Hospital Sued For Texting Of Dead Teen’s Pics

by Thomas MacMillan | Jan 7, 2013 8:36 am

(6) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Health, Legal Writes

After learning that hospital staff texted images of her murdered son’s body, Virginia Williams suffered depression, anxiety, and emotional pain and suffering—and now she’s suing.

Williams’ lawyer, Jerald Barber, filed the lawsuit week with those charges against St. Raphael Healthcare System. It alleges that the hospital—which is now part of Yale-New Haven—is liable for the emotional anguish Williams endured when staff shared cell phone photos of her murdered teenage son’s body via text message in June 2011.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

Williams’ son, 17-year-old Hillhouse High student Travis Washington, was gunned down on June 25, 2011, near the corner of Percival and Carmel Streets in Beaver Hills. He was taken to the Hospital of St. Raphael, where he died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.

The death—the second shooting homicide in Beaver Hills in two days—prompted public outcry and a call to action to prevent future gun violence.

Allan Appel File Photo Shortly after Washington died, the hospital informed Williams (at right in photo) that an employee had taken a picture of her son’s wounds after his death and shared it with one other staffer, who then shared it with others.

Although Washington was unidentifiable in the photo, the making of the picture violated the hospital’s patient privacy policy, hospital spokeswoman Liese Klein said at the time. St. Raphael’s fired three employees and gave others written warnings.

The hospital recovered images in the course of its investigation, all of which were deleted, Klein said. “To the best of our knowledge, there were no Internet or social media postings of the image.”

Barber, Williams’ attorney, said it remains to be seen if the image was posted online anywhere: “We have reason to believe that did in fact happen.” He said that information will come out during the process of discovery.

“In our view, the defendant hospital violated the privacy and dignity of the Williams family in being so reckless and careless with how they treated his remains, and caused emotional distress and damages to certainly his mother and to his entire family,” Barber said. “It was not right, and more to the point, it was a violation of the law.”

Barber said the taking of the picture was a violation of privacy and of the Patient Bill of Rights.

Asked if he has seen the photo, Barber said, “I would rather not answer that question.”

The current suit is the second brought by Williams. She sued Saint Raphael Healthcare System last year. That case was dismissed because of a “procedural defect that we had to correct,” said Barber. The dismissal occurred in September, just before St. Raphael’s was acquired by Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Williams’ new lawsuit again names Saint Raphael Healthcare System as the defendant, even though the hospital is now a part of Yale-New Haven. Rob Hutchison, a spokesman for Yale-New Haven, said he had no comment on the case because the hospital is not named in the suit.

Asked about the difficulty of suing an entity that no longer exists in the same form, Barber said only, “We’ve sued the responsible parties in the lawsuit.”

Barber said legal precedents to the case exist. There has been an “explosion of cell phone cameras” which has “invaded all parts of society,” he said.

Smartphones and cell phone cameras may have become a ubiquitous presence, but doctors and medical staff need only follow a simple rule before taking a picture, Barber said: “If you want to use someone’s photo, you get their consent.”

Barber said Williams is still affected by her son’s death and by the photo-sharing incident. She has declined to speak with a reporter about the incident.

“She’s a mom who continues to grieve the loss of her son and now what happened in the immediate aftermath,” Barber said.

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posted by: formerNhresident on January 7, 2013  5:52pm

Sorry that the hospital violated HIPAA rules, but I would think that a child’s murder would cause someone to experience “depression, anxiety, and emotional pain and suffering” more than anything else that occurred after the fact.

posted by: SRHS on January 7, 2013  10:47pm

Mr. Barber should know, the hospital at the time was found to be in compliance with federal and state Privacy laws.he was copied on the investigation results.

posted by: A Mother on January 8, 2013  1:29pm

@ formernhresident.Yes The Murder of a Child would cause all these things for a parent. But Having your Child’s Murdered Body Blasted All over the Net. Would Increase these Emotions and Heighten the Depression and Anxiety one is already dealing with. Although I have not had to Experience. what this Mother was Put through with the Picture Posting. I have lost a Child to Murder in 2006 at the age of 13. So I know how hard it is to have to deal with that Loss. I live with it Every Day for the Rest of My Life. And to have had pictures My Childs Body taken and. Placed out there like he Meant Nothing to His Family & others that Loved Him. Is not only Disrespectful but Heartless. I wish the Parent’s the Best with this Suit. I’m sure they know this suit wont bring thier child back. But as A Mother , Parent you Never Stop Fighting for and Protecting your Child not even in Death. I Applude this Mother for doing just that with this suit. God Bless from The Mother of Justus Suggs to Hers.

posted by: FairHavenRes on January 8, 2013  2:27pm

Per the article, the child’s “murdered body” was not “blasted all over the net;” please don’t inflate the discussion with such language.  Images of the wounds were taken, yes, but no images that identified the victim, and there does not seem to be any evidence thus far that it made it to the net.  I’d take Ms. Williams a little more seriously in this potentially frivolous lawsuit IF she planned to give 100% of the lawsuit’s proceeds to anti-violence groups, or some other similarly honorable gesture.  Otherwise this is all a bit ridiculous.  And yes, I’m a mother as well, in case that’s a requirement for commenting on this.

posted by: NewHavener on January 8, 2013  6:28pm

“If you want to use someone’s photo, you get their consent.”

That really says it all. It doesn’t matter that the photo didn’t end up on the internet or that Travis’ face or other identifying features allegedly were not included in the photo. It also doesn’t matter whether the intent of the photographer/photo sharers was innocent or malevolent. What matters is that a mother who was already grieving the violent and sudden loss of her teenage son had/has to deal with the knowledge that his body was not properly protected and cared for at the hospital. He was a murdered person—-a person who did not consent to his body being made a spectacle. I’m so sorry for your loss Ms. Williams and that you had/have to deal with all the rest of this. I’m also thinking of the mother of Justus Suggs who commented. Holding you and all the mothers and families who have lost loved ones to violence in my heart.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 8, 2013  7:14pm

There seems always to be a concern about how a claimant will use the money they might receive upon successfully suing someone.

If a judge or jury finds or rules in favor of the claimant and awards said person(s)money, then that should mean that the reason for bringing the suit was valid and the money received from the suit was legally (and perhaps morally and ethically)obtained.

Having met those criteria, is it any of our business how the claimant chooses to use their rightfully obtained funds?  The lawsuit does not become more or less valid based on how the awarded money is used. 

The purpose of a legitimate payout from the defendant is to punish them and to deter them and others from repeating whatever behavior caused them to be successfully sued in the first place.  After all of that is said and done (or even before), the claimant should be left alone about what they plan to do with their legally obtained winnings.

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