Attorneys and officials with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital face another legal challenge in the immediate aftermath of the “Take Care of Maya” trial – a criminal sexual assault complaint.
A Sarasota County jury found the local institution liable for $261 million in compensatory and punitive damages Nov. 9. A St. Petersburg Police Department spokesperson confirmed Thursday that Maya Kowalski and her attorney, Greg Anderson, visited headquarters Nov. 10 and filed a “call for assistance” complaint.
“It is an open case, and there are no public records to share at this time,” wrote police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez in a prepared statement.
Anderson foreshadowed the new filing in September, two weeks into the high-profile, eight-week trial. The family’s lead counsel told the courtroom outside the jury’s presence that a man Maya assumed was a doctor entered her room and said, “May I take a peek?”
Anderson said the unidentified man wearing a white lab coat then pulled down the 10-year-old girl’s pajamas and panties and stared at her “long enough for her to be not only startled but start to cry.” He claimed that the perceived doctor walked to the door and said “thanks,” and Maya never saw him again.
At the time, Anderson said he waited to corroborate the story instead of adding it to seven other counts of misconduct. He said Maya told a young friend about the alleged incident two years later, and that person was now willing to testify.
Judge Hunter Carroll ultimately denied Anderson’s motion to amend his client’s complaint against the hospital. All Children’s attorney Ethen Shapiro said hospital officials took immediate action after hearing the allegations.
“These allegations originally arose during the trial and were not admitted into the case,” Shapiro said in a prepared statement. “As soon as the hospital became aware of the allegations, and in accordance with their policies, they immediately initiated an internal investigation and contacted law enforcement last month. Federal privacy laws restrict Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital from sharing more, but the hospital takes allegations of this nature very seriously and always puts the safety of their patients above all else.”
Netflix’s Take Care of Maya chronicled the girl’s saga. Maya was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome at 9 and began taking controversial ketamine treatments.
In October 2016, Jack and Beata Kowalski drove their daughter from Venice to All Children’s as she experienced severe stomach pains. Hospital staff suspected Maya suffered from child abuse and fulfilled their legal obligation to report their concerns.
The Department of Children and Families and other agencies shared the hospital’s suspicions. A judge ordered All Children’s to shelter the girl amid investigations into her mother’s behavior.
After three months away from her daughter, Beata Kowalski hanged herself in the family’s garage.
Jurors deliberated for three days before they found the hospital liable on all counts, including false imprisonment, battery and inflicting emotional distress on both child and mother. The jury awarded the Kowalskis $211 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
All Children’s lead attorney Howard Hunter said he would file an immediate appeal “based on clear and prejudicial errors throughout this trial and deliberate conduct by plaintiff’s counsel that misled the jury” in a prepared statement.
“The evidence clearly showed that Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital followed Florida’s mandatory reporting law in reporting suspected child abuse and, when those suspicions were confirmed by a district court, fully complied with (DCF) and court orders,” Hunter continued. “We are determined to defend the vitally important obligation of mandatory reporters to … protect the smallest and most vulnerable among us.”
For comparison, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the family of a boy born with severe brain damage $183 million in May after they found the hospital negligent. That was the largest judgment for a single plaintiff in state history.
The $261 million All Children’s owes the Kowalskis is nearly half the $592 million in revenue it reported in 2021, the most recent tax return available. Appellate court proceedings could delay any payment for up to a year.
Chief Financial Officer Sherron Rogers testified that nearly two-thirds of All Children’s pediatric patients pay through Medicaid, which only covers about 70 cents on the dollar. Shapiro asked Rogers if the money spent paying punitive damages would negatively impact “children struggling to breathe” and “children with cancer” at the hospital.
“That is true,” Rogers said. “Yes.”
The hospital could soon face another civil suit. Anderson told CourtTV that in addition to the criminal sexual assault complaint, he could pursue negligence charges against All Children’s for failing to provide adequate security and supervision.
“It’s well documented that 10-year-old children are going to suppress their feelings about such things … we still have a lot to discover and figure out,” Anderson said. “I think just having the fact that somebody was able to get into a children’s hospital … if it was, in fact, someone who was not a doctor or otherwise employed there.”