When someone files a lawsuit alleging physical or emotional abuse, they can often find the legal process to be retraumatizing. They are forced to relive the incident(s) that hurt them over and over again, first when hiring a lawyer, then in deposition, then again in court. It’s not an easy process, and it’s a big reason that many victims never pursue legal action. It’s also a big reason many of those who do file never pursue it all the way to court.
Moss Gropen is one such victim who alleges he was abused and neglected by Palomar Medical Center. According to the lawsuit, Gropen went to the hospital for a scheduled procedure to remove fluid from the area surrounding his lungs. Instead, he claims he was admitted to the emergency room where doctors inserted a chest tube, then put him in a windowless room and left him alone with substandard nutrition. Gropen alleges he suffered from uncontrollable sobbing and anxiety, which resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from which he says he continues to suffer.
Gropen is suing the hospital along with several of its doctors and employees for causing his PTSD. When he appeared at the offices of the hospital’s lawyers in July to provide his deposition, his wife came with him to provide emotional support during what was bound to be a challenging time for Gropen.
The lawyers immediately objected to the presence of Gropen’s wife at the deposition because she is a witness in the lawsuit. Having Gropen’s wife present while he provides his deposition could lead to the two of them colluding on their testimony. Gropen refused to provide testimony without his wife present and ended up leaving the office without providing testimony.
The lawyers for the hospital filed a protective order to exclude Gropen’s wife from the deposition. They also requested Gropen be made to pay $3,000 in sanctions.
During a hearing on the matter, Gropen submitted a declaration from his doctor that the deposition would trigger his PTSD and that his wife should be with him to provide emotional support. Gropen’s attorney also pointed out that PTSD is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in which case Gropen is entitled to reasonable accommodation for his disability. In this case, that reasonable accommodation would be to have his wife present while he provided his deposition.
The trial court judge said that he did not see that Gropen had a need for special accommodations, and that his request to have his wife present consisted of bad timing. He therefore granted the hospital’s request for a protective order.
Gropen appealed the decision to the San Diego County Superior Court, which sided with him. They agreed that the timing of his request for emotional support by having his wife present was less than ideal, but they insisted it was not enough to provide an obstacle to Gropen providing his deposition with his wife. They suggested his wife could give her deposition first, or wear noise-cancelling headphones during her husband’s deposition to avoid any collusion.
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