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LVHN may face 2nd child abuse class action lawsuit, court filing says

Distributed Photo
Lehigh Valley Health Network
Lehigh Valley Health Network's Lehigh Valley Hospital.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Lehigh Valley Health Network may soon face a second class action lawsuit related to child abuse accusations.

Francis Malofiy of law firm Francis Alexander on Friday filed a second writ of summons for a class action suit against the health network and related actors, with seven families listed as plaintiffs.

A writ of summons is a way to initiate legal action without filing an official complaint. It does not include specific allegations against the defendants, but indicates a complaint is on the way.

“One thing that's very encouraging when people stand together, is other people feel that they're not alone, and they come forward."
Attorney Francis Malofiy

Malofiy said the new lawsuit will be similar to another class action suit filed last week. That complaint alleges 12 families were falsely accused of child abuse.

“One thing that's very encouraging when people stand together is other people feel that they're not alone, and they come forward,” Malifoy said.

Malofiy said he may or may not decide to combine the two lawsuits into one legal action.

The writ is the latest development in a months-long controversy. In late August, Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley released a report that alleges “systemic overdiagnosis” of medical and other types of child abuse in the county.

About two dozen people, many with signs like "fire Jenssen," stand in the rain in front of a Lehigh Valley Health Network sign.
Ryan Gaylor
About two dozen people protested outside Lehigh Valley Health Network's Cedar Crest campus on Sept. 24.

Mass tort lawsuit

A group called Greater Lehigh Valley Parents’ Medical Rights Group has since protested and called for changes in the local child welfare system.

Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen, who has been a central figure in the controversy, and LVHN's John Van Brakle Child Advocacy Center, or CAC, are defendants in both cases.

LVHN Media Relations Director Brian Downs said previously that the health network does not comment on ongoing litigation, but emailed a statement saying the health network is responsible for reviewing and reporting suspicions of child abuse and neglect.

“Like all healthcare providers and caregivers in Pennsylvania, we are required by law to report suspected child abuse and we take this responsibility seriously,” the statement read.

“Early recognition of abuse can be lifesaving and our clinicians remain committed to caring for and protecting our patients.”

Downs did not immediately respond to a request for an updated comment.

Malofiy said that while the lawsuits can colloquially be understood as class action, they are more accurately described as “mass tort” lawsuits.

In both mass tort and class action lawsuits, a group of people with the same or similar allegations come together to serve one suit against a common defendant.

Plaintiffs in mass tort suits each still are treated as individuals and each present their cases. In class action suits, the group is represented by one case.

‘It’s about accountability’

In an interview, Malofiy said he and the plaintiffs decided to group the cases together because there’s “power in numbers,” and it is difficult for parents to talk about being accused of abuse.

“It's a very harsh criticism for someone to condemn you as a child abuser," he said. "And it's very hard to stand and tell your story unless there's others that are also there.”

“It's not about the money. It's about accountability… but corporations do not learn from their mistakes unless they have to pay for them. And that's the unfortunate truth."
Attorney Francis Malofiy

Malofiy did not specify what amount of damages he would seek.

“It's not about the money," he said. "It's about accountability… but corporations do not learn from their mistakes unless they have to pay for them. And that's the unfortunate truth.

“Lehigh Valley [Health Network] will have to pay for this mistake. Because too many parents had to pay with their reputation, pay with negligent treatment of their children, pay with medical malpractice that occurred at the hands of these doctors.”

In November, a jury in Florida ordered Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to pay $261 million in damages to a family who said they were falsely accused of abuse.

Malofiy said he hopes the lawsuits would be settled before going to jury trial.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lehigh Valley Health Network is a financial supporter of Lehigh Valley Public Media and a founding supporter of LehighValleyNews.com. LVHN has no influence on our editorial or business operations.