Doctor files $15 million slander suit

November 11, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A former resident at Maryland General Hospital has filed a $15 million slander suit charging the hospital's chief of obstetrics and gynecology with falsely accusing him of throwing away a fetus to cover up a botched abortion.

"I think it has probably done irreparable damage to my career," Dr. Ronald H. Johnson, 32, said yesterday. "The charges made against me that I did an illegal act in disposing of a fetus or a baby in a bucket are totally false."

According to the suit, Dr. Johnson was a second-year resident in August when he was accused of failing to submit an aborted fetus to the hospital's pathology department -- a violation of hospital rules.

Dr. Norman Levin, the hospital's chief of obstetrics and gynecology, accused Dr. Johnson of trying to cover up a botched abortion on a 27-year-old woman who was three months' pregnant, the suit states. The suit was filed Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Dr. Johnson, who was accepted last year into Maryland General's residency program in obstetrics and gynecology, performed an abortion on the woman on Aug. 26 and submitted the "products of conception" to the pathology department, the suit says. But the woman returned to the hospital at 3 a.m. Aug. 28, complaining of pain and "malaise," according to the suit.

After the woman was placed into stirrups, a "blood clot" was noticed on the examination table, the suit says, adding that a medical student present was told the blood clot was not significant.

Later that day, Dr. Levin accused Dr. Johnson of putting the fetus in a bucket and throwing it away to hide evidence that the Aug. 26 abortion had been unsuccessful, according to the suit.

Dr. Johnson produced hospital documents in trying to argue his case, but Dr. Levin said he had been informed by an "eyewitness" that the fetus had been disposed of in a bucket, the suit states.

Baltimore malpractice lawyer Marvin Ellin, who represents Dr. Johnson, said his client was falsely accused of commiting a crime. Destroying medical records or any other information about a patient that could be used in a medical malpractice case is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, the lawyer noted.

The suit also charges Dr. Levin and the hospital with spreading word of their accusations to the hospital staff. Included in the complaint is a copy of a cartoon, purportedly drawn by a staff member, showing a baby and a bucket with the caption, "The Life and Times of Ron Johnson, M.D."

The suit demands $10 million in actual damages for libel and slander and another $5 million in punitive damages.

Dr. Johnson, a graduate of the McDonogh School, the Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University Medical School, was suspended from his residency after the incident. After he refused to accept conditions set for his reinstatement, such as close monitoring by a senior doctor, Dr. Johnson left the program, according to the suit.

In the suit, Dr. Johnson notes that he was one of only two black residents among a staff of 35. Mr. Ellin, the lawyer, said yesterday Dr. Johnson felt "racial overtones" were a factor in the incident.

Asked to elaborate, the doctor said racial considerations are relevant because he was a member of a largely outnumbered minority on the staff. He refused to explain further.

Both Dr. Levin and Timothy D. Miller, president and chief operating officer for Maryland General, declined to comment on the suit.

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