More than 8,000 former patients of Dr. Nikita Levy, the Johns Hopkins-affiliated gynecologist who was believed to have secretly photographed or videotaped hundreds of women during exams, have been awarded damages ranging from less than $2,000 to more than $26,000, according to a letter to one of the victims.
The letter, dated Dec. 20, came from the Philadelphia company assigned to divide a $190 million settlement between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Levy's patients in what the lead attorney for the alleged victims once called "the highest single sex perpetrator settlement in the history of the U.S."
The settlement was announced in July 2014, months after Baltimore police investigators discovered more than 1,300 videos and images, surreptitiously recorded during pelvic exams, in Levy's home and office. The investigation began after a female colleague noticed what looked like a pen camera hanging from the doctor's neck and alerted Hopkins officials.
The obstetrician and gynecologist, who practiced in the Hopkins system for 25 years, killed himself during the 2013 investigation. Days later, his patients sued the hospital for millions.
Bessie Smith was one of them. A Levy patient who says she first complained to Hopkins about the doctor in 2009, Smith was notified that she will receive $26,048, the amount awarded to 806 women deemed to have been the most severely injured by Levy's behavior.
On Friday, Smith expressed disappointment with the award and decried the millions that lawyers for the plaintiffs are due to receive from the settlement.
"I don't think it's fair," she said. "I am owed much more than that."
A Baltimore judge last year awarded lawyers $32 million in fees, less than half of what they had sought. Smith said the total for lawyers is closer to $33.2 million, and she questioned the number of women deemed victims by the court-appointed claims adjudicator, saying the number had fluctuated inexplicably during litigation.
Jonathan Schocher, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment. Nor could representatives of RG/2 Claims Administration, the Philadelphia company assigned to divide up the settlement.
Gregory Dolin, co-director of its Center for Medicine and Law at the University of Baltimore law school, was not surprised at the settlement amounts.
"At the time the suit was filed it seemed really large, $190 million," he said. "But that's not $190 million for one individual, but for hundreds."
With the settlement, Dolin noted, the women have been spared trials and the burden of having to prove their injuries to a jury.
Because the women could not be identified in the images Levy recorded, every woman who was a patient of the doctor was eligible to file a claim in the class action. About 9,500 did. Hundreds were questioned — first by attorneys, later by specially trained interviewers — to determine the extent of their injury from Levy's actions.
"I don't want to minimize what happened to these women, but it may be hard for a jury to figure out exactly what the extent of the harm is," said Dolin. "The law is not very solicitous of the pure emotional claim."
The letter that Smith and other Levy patients received from RG/2 described the process for determining injuries from Levy's actions. It described four categories of injury, the number of alleged victims in each, and the settlement amounts for each victim.
Breaking News Alerts
In addition to the $20.9 million allocated for Smith and 805 other victims in the "severe" injury category, $94.7 million was set aside for 4,739 patients deemed to have been "moderately" injured. An additional $24.6 million will go to 2,121 patients considered "mildly" injured. The letter states that RG/2 set aside $1.1 million to settle claims of 678 patients considered to have had "no perceptible injury."
The company said it considered an array of factors, from whether Levy had made inappropriate comments during an examination to whether the exam had been ordered "for purposes of Dr. Levy's sexual gratification."
Specially trained interviewers also asked Levy's former patients about emotional trauma after they learned about his photographs and videos, including whether they had developed mistrust of doctors, experienced nightmares or a breakdown in intimate relationships.
The letter from RG/2 spells out the plaintiff's right to appeal the final award, setting Jan. 20 as a deadline for appeals.
"We do not know at this time how many appeals with will requested," the firm said. "Resolving them will take time. Please continue to be patient."
Bessie Smith said she plans to appeal her award.