A hospital patient who stuck pencils in her eyes in a suicide attempt, then found out that a photo of her self-mutilation turned up on the Internet three years later, can seek punitive damages against two nurses alleged to have been involved in the dissemination of the image, a judge ruled Monday.
Despite the denials of any wrongdoing by nurses Kristin Ciasulli and Shannon Lipham, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White said it is up to a jury to assess whether they are telling the truth.
“It’s a credibility issue,” White said.
The ruling allows lawyers for the woman, who is identified in her lawsuit as Jane Doe, to file an amended complaint on her behalf to include allegations that the nurses engaged in despicable content that warrants them being punished financially for their actions beyond simple compensation.
White previously denied the plaintiffs’ motion to file an amended complaint as untimely, but the woman’s lawyers won a court order from a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal directing her to reconsider her decision.
“Taking the hint from the Court of Appeal, the court grants the motion,” White said.
In addition to the two nurses, the lawsuit, originally filed last October, names as defendants Los Angeles County, County-USC Medical Center, HRN Services and Joshua Shivers, who the plaintiff’s attorneys alleged posted the photo.
The complaint alleges intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, public disclosure of private facts, breach of duty and confidentiality and unauthorized disclosure of medical information.
According to the complaint, the woman, now 24, was admitted to the county-run hospital in June 2011 after trying to kill herself by thrusting pencils into her eyes. She survived, but was blinded.
Lipham was a relief pool nurse employed by the county who also was assigned to care for the plaintiff, according to Doe’s attorneys’ court papers, which say Lipham acknowledged in a June deposition that she sent the photograph to her niece, who in turn gave it to Shivers.
Ciasulli admitted during a deposition that she took a photo of the injured plaintiff and says she did so as a “teaching tool.” She says she later deleted the image and that it was not the photo that turned up on the Internet.
Up to a half-dozen other medical workers took similar images of the plaintiff when the injured La Canada Flintridge resident was brought into the County-USC Medical Center emergency room, according to Ciasulli.
Ciasulli worked at the time for HRN Services Inc., which supplies hospitals with temporary and supplemental healthcare employees.
Shivers uploaded the image in July 2014 onto “one of the most visited shock websites in the world,” the suit says. The same day, he took credit for his actions on a social networking site, saying, “I finally made it in life. Please check out my shiz,” and included a link to the photo, according to the complaint.
A week later, he placed the same photo onto a “popular entertainment and social media website,” according to the plaintiff’s attorneys, who say it has received more than 192,000 Internet views.
Ciasulli said she did not send a copy of the photo she took to Lipham.
Shivers in deposition testimony said he didn’t know how the photo he posted was taken, but said it was given to him by Alexis Brennecke Siwek, the niece of a nurse at the hospital.
—City News Service
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