WASHINGTON – A woman who said her doctor drugged and sexually assaulted her cannot collect a $310,000 award for the abuse from the physician’s insurance company, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that George Daniel’s policy with National Capital Reciprocal Insurance Co. excluded claims for acts that occurred before the policy was officially issued — such as his 1987 assault of Patricia Ball.
It was the second time the appeals court has ruled on Ball’s case, which has dragged through the courts for years. Ball could not be reached for comment Friday, but her attorneys called the ruling disappointing.
“This was a middle-class American person who got taken advantage of by a very bad man, a very bad licensed professional,” said Gregory Mitchell, who argued the case for Ball. “We’re looking at the decision and assessing what little options we have left.”
Even the insurance company sympathized with Ball, said its attorney, Lee Ellis, but he agreed with the court’s decision.
“It’s sad, he’s (Daniel) a bad man, and certainly she had good lawyers and she fought hard,” Ellis said.
Ball’s misfortunes began in April 1987, when court records say she arranged for in-house treatment of her migraine headaches and depression from Daniel, who had started a practice a year earlier that made house calls.
Court documents said that Daniel injected Ball with unprescribed drugs, including Demerol, Vistaril, Valium and Fiorinal, in doses that ultimately made her addicted. The court said the drugs also put her in a “stupor,” during which Daniel sexually assaulted Ball.
At one point, Daniel told Ball she was addicted and she checked in to a hospital seeking treatment for her addiction. But Daniel continued treating Ball until November, when he was arrested on unrelated federal charges of selling prescription drugs to undercover agents.
But Daniel fled the country in February 1988 and remained on the lam until Sept. 1991, when he was caught in Honolulu, according to published reports. The reports said he was convicted on the drug counts and sentenced to 52 months in prison.
Ball filed a malpractice claim in December 1987, but it was largely stalled while he was a fugitive, according to the court. In April 1992, she filed notice of her claim with the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Office — serving notice on Daniel in prison — and the office awarded her $310,000 in 1996.
Four years later, Ball sued the insurance company in an effort to recover money.
The district court ruled for the insurer, but that decision was overturned by the appeals court and remanded in 2002. U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. again ruled for the insurance company on new grounds, sparking the latest appeal.
The circuit court rejected Williams’ rulings on several issues, but agreed with him that an exclusionary provision in the policy applied in Ball’s case.
The exclusion said that the insurer was not responsible for claims before the policy was officially issued. Although the policy was retroactive to March 1987, it was not actually issued until May 21 of that year — after Daniel’s abuse of Ball had begun.
The court pointed to the fact that Ball had checked herself in for drug treatment before May 21 as evidence that the abuse was taking place before the policy was issued.
Ellis said the insurance company would normally “bend over to help physicians” and the challenge to Ball’s claim put it in an unusual position.
He estimated that the award today would be at least twice the original amount, because of years of interest. Years of legal fees would add to that amount, he said.
Stephen Leckar, another attorney for Ball, said they were considering whether to seek a rehearing but could not say when they might make that decision.
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