Rape victim sues Bay area hospital

BRADENTON, FL — A 45 year-old Bay area woman was grabbed by three men while taking her daily walk in Bradenton. Two held her down while the other raped her. It happened on January 21st, 2007, and no one has been caught.

Now, she says she was victimized again, when the hospital that treated her demanded payment. That is illegal in Florida, and has been since 1982, under state statute 960.28.  The victim, whom we’re not identifying due to the nature of the crime, spoke with ABC Action News Investigative Reporter Matthew Schwartz.

The woman said, "I know I’m not the only one being harassed by the hospitals."

The rape victim is suing Manatee Memorial Hospital. She says she received two bills and numerous phone phone calls demanding she pay $1939.00, the cost of her sexual battery exam.

She says that the repeated bills and phone calls, "Actually brought back memories of the rape, and it actually hurt me."

A letter last October from the attorney general’s office to Manatee Memorial said the hospital apparently is, "Attempting to collect a debt for a forensic sexual battery exam in violation of Florida statutes."

The victim’s attorney, Billy Howard, said of the bills being sent to the woman, "It’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever seen in my entire life."

The lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $15,000, saying the victim suffered severe emotional distress due to the collection efforts.

The attorney for Manatee Memorial is based out of state and was unavailable for an on-camera interview. But the lawyer, Matthew Klein, sent us a statement in which he said the hospital, "Deeply regrets the clerical mistake which resulted in an inadvertent billing error for one of our patients.’"

The hospital attorney says the public can be assured that this is "Not a systemic problem." But rape victim advocates in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties say they’ve heard of other medical providers making this same mistake.

In Pinellas County, more than 200 rape victims were treated last year at "Help A Child, Inc.," in Pinellas Park. And the county’s only certified rape crisis center operates nearby, out of a Clearwater agency.

"Family Service Centers" Clinical Programs Director Kelly Sisco says all medical providers should know they are prohibited from charging rape victims for initial physical exams.
"I think this is something that can be pretty traumatic for her to have to experience, remembering about the assault every time she’s contacted about payment. And she shouldn’t have been charged in the first place."

Adds the rape victim, "I’m dong this so that there’s no more harassment to any victims in the state of Florida."

The hospital’s attorney says he offered to pay the victim’s legal fees and one-thousand dollars in statutory damages. But the victim’s attorney refused, and says he wants a jury to decide this case. It’s a case that could be a wake-up call for some medical providers who don’t know, or obey, the law.

Copyright 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.