An Atlanta dental practice was cleared Monday of liability in a case brought by an woman who was sexually assaulted by a nurse anesthetist during a tooth implant procedure.
In a unanimous opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out a $3.7 million verdict
against Goldstein, Garber & Salama, saying the dentist office could not have foreseen that anesthetist Paul Patrick Serdula was going to molest a patient after he sedated her. Serdula was hired by the dental practice as an independent contractor through an anesthesia staffing agency.
The lawsuit was brought by the victim, who was 18 years old at the time of the incident and who is referred to as "J.B." in court filings. When she came to the dental office on Sept. 16, 2009, Serdula put her in a heavily sedated state for about two hours. At one point, J.B. was left alone with Serdula, who made three video recordings of himself sexually molesting the teenager.
Those videos, as well as others that showed Serdula sexually molesting other anesthetized patients, were later discovered when his hidden cell phone was found recording employees in Goldstein, Garber & Salama's restroom.
Serdula is now serving a life sentence after being found guilty of 34 charges involving patients in hospitals and medical offices. The charges included aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation and illegal eavesdropping and surveillance. The charges involved assaults against 19 anesthetized females, the youngest of whom was 12.
In 2011, a Fulton County jury awarded a $3.7 million judgment to J.B. and ordered Goldstein, Garber & Salama to pay that in full. J.B.'s lawsuit initially named Serdula, but he was dismissed as a defendant after he pleaded guilty and was sent to prison.
At trial, J.B.'s lawyers presented expert evidence contending Goldstein, Garber & Salama violated standards for dentists supervising anesthetists and for monitoring patients after they'd been put under. After the jury's verdict was narrowly upheld in a 4-3 vote by the state Court of Appeals, the dentist office appealed to the state's highest court.
On Monday, Chief Justice Harris Hines wrote that Goldstein, Garber & Salama had no reasonable grounds to anticipate that Serdula would commit such offenses. "Prior to the crimes committed by Serdula against J.B., (Goldstein, Garber & Salama) had no knowledge of anything in Serdula's record that indicated he might sexually molest or otherwise harm a patient," Hines said.
In its opinion, the state Supreme Court said the Fulton County trial judge erred when denying the dentist office's request for a directed verdict in its favor at the close of evidence in the case and before the jury had a chance to deliberate.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.