Settlements checks to be mailed in Dr. Nikita Levy case

After several years of legal work, settlement checks are set to be mailed to more than 8,000 former patients of Dr. Nikita Levy, the Johns Hopkins gynecologist accused of secretly photographing and filming women during pelvic exams.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester B. Cox has approved the final allocation plan, said retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, who served as claims adjudicator in the class-action case. She said the checks — which range from $1,876.77 to $27,934.93 — should be mailed by June 2.

"The goal is to get the award into the hands of the claimants as soon as reasonably possible and legally possible," Raker said.

Levy worked for more than two decades at a Hopkins clinic in East Baltimore. In 2013, amid a police investigation into the allegations against him, the doctor killed himself at age 54. Investigators said they discovered more than 1,300 images that he secretly compiled.

The judge's approval Monday of the final distribution amounts brings some closure to the case, which has been described as the largest sexual abuse settlement stemming from a single perpetrator in U.S. history.

In 2014, Cox approved a $190 million settlement between Johns Hopkins and the patients, but that wasn't the end of the case.

"It was a painstaking, lengthy process," said attorney Jonathan Schochor, who chaired the plaintiffs' steering committee for the class action.

Each woman had to be interviewed to assess the extent of damage she suffered. Former patients were interviewed and placed into four categories — from those with no perceptible injury to those with "severe" injury.

The largest number of women — 4,738 — fell into the "moderate" category and will receive about $21,500 each, according to Raker.

The final settlement amounts are higher than initially expected because some funds had been set aside for appeals, Raker said. This past December, women in the class-action case received letters with preliminary allocations that ranged from $1,750 to $26,048.

About 2.8 percent of the women appealed their preliminary awards, Raker said.

Once the appeals were over, the leftover money was distributed proportionally among the women, she said.

The women could not be identified in Levy's images, so everyone who had been treated by Levy was eligible to file a claim in the class action. Schochor said that initially, more than 15,200 claims were filed.

More than a third of the initial claims were duplicates, and those were weeded out, he said. More than 1,000 people were found to not have been patients of Levy.

Hopkins spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said the hospital system had no involvement in allocating the money.

RG/2 Claims Administration was the court-appointed claims administrator.

Over the past several years, some of the women have complained about issues including the length of the claims process and the amount of money that will go to the lawyers. In 2015, Cox awarded $32 million in attorney's fees — an amount that was less than half of what the lawyers sought.

Bessie Smith, 29, was placed in the category of women who had suffered the most severely but was not satisfied with the amount of her award. She appealed, but that was denied.

Smith said Levy delivered her stillborn son in 2009. When she found out about the accusations that Levy secretly taped women, it compounded the trauma she already suffered, she said.

She said she still won't go to see doctors.

"I don't trust them," Smith said. "I'll die on the streets before I go back to Johns Hopkins."

Another woman, 30-year-old LaQuishia Johnson, also said the experience has damaged her perception of doctors. She said she suffered two strokes in 2015.

"The reason I had two strokes was that I didn't go to the doctor because of my anxiety," Johnson said.

Johnson said she is "content, [but] not completely satisfied" with the claims process, which she felt dragged on.

Gregory Dolin, co-director of the Center for Medicine and Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said that frustrations about the process are understandable, but it's important in a class action that "you treat like people alike."

"It's not an instantaneous process," he said. "Of course, they want to get their settlements and they want to put this behind them. I totally get that."

Raker urged women in the case to make sure they have submitted W-9 forms to RG/2 , and ensure that their contact information is up-to-date. More information on the case is available to claimants at drlevyclassaction.com.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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