Court: Prank 'extreme, outrageous, horrific'

The state appeals court hearing the lawsuit brought by Chauncey Drewery against his former employer and former coworkers Barbara Wiedebusch, RN, and Kristien Williams, RN, was appalled by the alleged prank played on him during surgery. These are some excerpts from the ruling by the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, at Austin, TX:

"In addition to the assault claim, Drewery alleged causes of action against Wiedebusch and Williams for intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming that the incident and its aftermath created a hostile work environment that caused him severe emotional distress. He asserted that when he returned to work after the surgery, the individual defendants continued to tease him and make jokes about his sexuality, telling other hospital employees that he is gay, even though he is not, and that they had painted him to look 'like a little girl.'"

"Regarding the taping of his thumb, Drewery argued that the significance of this act was to call attention to his 'very private, but embarrassing habit' of sucking his thumb, which Wiedebusch was aware of and had exploited in an attempt to humiliate him."

"He alleged that he experienced nausea and loss of sleep and appetite as a result of feeling that he had been violated by his coworkers and from not knowing what else might have been done to him while he was under anesthesia."

"According to his pleadings, Drewery suffered further emotional distress after administrative personnel at the Hospital ignored his complaints regarding the assault, failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing, and failed to punish the perpetrators."

"Drewery brought the same causes of action for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Betty Thorp, a surgical technician, and Warren Voegele, a nurse anesthetist, claiming that both of them had been present in the operating room before and during his surgery, yet neither of them had intervened to stop the assault; in fact, Drewery alleged, Thorp and Voegele had aided and encouraged Wiedebusch and Williams by joking and laughing. Drewery also brought these claims against the Hospital under the doctrine of respondeat superior, arguing that the individual defendants had been acting in the course and scope of their employment."

"The actions described above, which were directed towards Plaintiff, were intentional. Defendants' conduct involved an extreme degree of risk considering the probability and magnitude of potential harm to Plaintiff and all Defendants proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of Plaintiff despite all Defendants' actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved."

"The acts of all the Defendants described above were extreme and outrageous, in that all Defendants were in positions that required them to provide medical care and treatment to Plaintiff. Plaintiff was under general anesthesia and muscular paralysis and was physically incapable of defending himself against this assault committed by the very professionals charged with protecting him from these horrific actions."

"The defendants are mistaken in relying on the sole fact that they were 'acting' as health care providers at the time the alleged assault occurred," which would require expert testimony. "The fact that the actions were taken by a physician or health care provider does not necessarily mean that the suit is about a patient's treatment, lack of treatment, or other departure from accepted standards of health care. Otherwise, every claim based on the conduct of a physician or health care provider in a health-care setting would be subject to the expert-report requirement." (See the state appeals court ruling at http://bit.ly/nLpW1A.)