Some former patients of disgraced ex-psychiatrist Stanley Dobrowolski have lined up to sue him, but their bigger civil target is the governing body for doctors across Ontario.
It’s the legal actions against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that could attract the most scrutiny and debate, says a London civil lawyer who has seven clients who were sexually abused by the former London psychiatrist.
The cases, said London lawyer Robert Talach, could end up in the Ontario Court of Appeal to determine whether the college can be held judged for decisions it made to allow Dobrowolski to keep his medical licence while the accusations of sexual abuse kept piling up.
All of Talach’s cases name the college as a defendant with Dobrowolski.
The college, as outlined in a statement of defence in one of the cases brought against it, maintains it is immune from liability as outlined by the Regulated Health Professions Act.
The college has filed statements of defence in all seven of Talach’s cases and stands by Section 36 of the act that declares none of its records, statements, documents or anything at any of their proceedings are admissible in a civil action.
All of that material must be kept confidential, it says, and can’t be used in a civil proceeding.
Talach calls the defence “baloney” and the law “a shield for the college” to avoid any responsibility for years of Dobrowolski’s pattern of abuse.
“Right now the college can’t be effectively judged,” he said.
None of the allegations in the lawsuits have been proven in a civil court.
Dobrowolski, 69, is serving a four-year sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to 18 charges: 16 counts of sexual assault, one of voyeurism and one of disobeying a court order. He recently was denied parole after it was found he still posed a risk to the community and that he asked his in-prison probation officer when she last had a breast exam.
All the charges relate to Dobrowolski’s activities while he was in private practice in his Victoria Street residence after he resigned his position as staff psychiatrist at Western University.
All of Talach’s clients were private patients and all but one were complainants involved in the criminal proceedings. Each are suing for approximately $3 million.
At least four other lawsuits have been filed through other law firms.
One of the women, known only as Jane Doe, thought to be Dobrowolski’s earliest victim, came forward earlier this year. She was a student at Western University and reports she was abused by Dobrowolski in 1986, just months after the doctor was hired by Student Health Services.
One of the defendants named in her lawsuit is the university.
The initial complaint to the college about Dobrowolski was made by student Michelle (Varey) Stanford in 1989. Dobrowolski was cleared in 1991, prompting the resignation of two female staff members. A lawsuit launched by Stanford against the university was settled.
After opening his private practice, he was sanctioned by the college in 1995, 1999 and 2004 for sexual improprieties. His activities included an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient and performing unnecessary breast exams.
Dobrowolski’s punishments included brief medical licence suspensions, apology letters, a peer assessment, surprise inspections and prohibitions on doing exams on women.
The college suspended his licence in 2012 after a London police investigation into his activities. The police found that Dobrowolski was engaging in more unnecessary examinations of patients by touching their breasts and genital areas. Investigators also found a collection of 10,000 photos secretly taken inside his office.
He bought lingerie for one patient to wear during her appointments and some were touched under the assumption he was checking them for cancerous spots.
Eighteen months after his criminal convictions, the college finally yanked Dobrowolski’s medical licence.
In its statement of defence, the college says it’s not responsible for Dobrowolski’s sexual abuses.
It claims its responsibilities “are to the public-at-large in accordance with its statutory powers and duties, including its duty to serve and protect the public interest in carrying out its statutory objects.”
It has also launched a cross-claim against Dobrowolski for any amounts it might have to pay in judgments, plus the costs of the action.
Talach said the cases are unique because the women were in mental health care at the time of the abuses.
It will mean having to sort out what conditions were pre-existing or caused by the doctor’s actions.
Though the medical issues will have to be argued in court, Talach said the broader issues with the college require the same kind of institutional negligence scrutiny as religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church in cases of long-term sexual abuse.
Talach applauded the Ontario government for its changes to sexual assault laws, but added, “They need to tackle this.
“There really is an exception for the doctors, and there is absolutely an exception and a shield for the college.”
Published on August 15, 2016