RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) – A Virginia doctor accused by a former patient of making inappropriate sexual remarks during an examination has prevailed in the lawsuit filed against him by the patient.
The Virginia Supreme Court on July 20 ruled Alexia Summers didn't have sufficient expert testimony in her lawsuit against Dr. J. Michael Syptak, of Harrisonburg.
Summers claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to her history of sexual harassment and abuse. However, in her lawsuit against Syptak, she didn’t proffer an expert witness to testify that her symptoms of PTSD worsened after being treated by Syptak at Harrisonburg Family Practice Associates PC.
From November 2010 until August 2011, Summers was a patient of Dr. Deborah A. Nio at Harrisonburg Family Practice Associates, P.C. She was treated for emotional, psychological and physical symptoms she says she experienced due to sexual harassment and abuse at her workplace. Nio opined in 2010 that Summers might suffer from PTSD.
Summers returned to Harrisonburg Family Practice Associates PC in March 2014 with symptoms of high blood pressure. Summers was examined by Syptak, the husband of Nio.
Summers claimed that during the office visit, Syptak make a number of inappropriate comments, including jokes about his sex life with his wife. According to the opinion issued by Judge Stephen R. McCullough, Syptak referred to himself as a “jackrabbit,” told “plaintiff that if she lost weight she would look and feel sexy,” and told her “that around Harrisonburg the term 'fiancée' is like ‘redneck Layaway’ - and how you can try them out before you buy the merchandise.”
Some of the remarks were directed toward Summers’ husband, who had accompanied her.
In her lawsuit against Syptak, Summers claimed that her treatment by him worsened her symptoms of depression, PTSD and fibromyalgia drastically.
Summers produced Mercy Souder, a professional and licensed counselor, to testify about her mental health. However, the trial court determined that Souder’s testimony didn’t provide sufficient basis that the standard of care had been violated by Syptak, even though she testified that “he had violated the standard of care by not noting that information in her patient history or that his alleged behavior was the definite cause of her symptoms and not her prior history with PTSD and other conditions,” according to the opinion.
After the trial court dismissed Summers’ claims with prejudice, she appealed.
The Supreme Court's opinion notes that in medical malpractice cases, expert testimony is needed to establish that the standard of care was violated, according to Virginia law.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of Syptak, upholding the trial court’s granting of summary judgment to the defendant, and noted in the opinion that “just because a plaintiff suffers a deterioration of several preexisting conditions after seeing a physician does not mean that the doctor’s actions were a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s worsened condition.”