A Bibb County Superior Court judge awarded Tuesday $100,000 each in two civil cases against a former radiology technician who falsified mammogram results at Perry Hospital.
In addition to the punitive damages, Judge Edgar W. Ennis Jr. also awarded other damages and attorneys fees against Rachael Rapraeger in those two cases. However, the 34-year-old Rapraeger may not be able to pay them.
Criminal prosecutors contended Rapraeger entered negative results for more than 1,000 mammograms that were not read by a radiologist from late January 2009 to early April 2010.
Last month, she was sentenced to up to six months in a probation-detention facility after pleading guilty in Houston County Superior Court to one count of felony computer forgery and 10 counts of misdemeanor reckless conduct. The other nine felony computer forgery counts were dismissed as part of a negotiated plea.
She began serving her sentence two weeks ago, said Macon attorney Floyd Buford, who represented her in the criminal proceedings. Buford said Rapraeger has no assets in her name, and the monetary judgments awarded against her are not collectible.
Shell never pay a cent of it, Buford said by telephone.
Also, because the judgments were awarded against Rapraeger individually, Buford said he does not think collection can be sought against her husband. Buford declined to reveal who paid for his representation of Rapraeger.
The two civil cases discussed at Tuesdays hearing are among 17 pending lawsuits filed in Bibb County Superior Court against Rapraeger, Houston Healthcare doing business as Perry Hospital, Universal Radiology and Staff Care.
All 17 -- including the two in which awards were announced -- are still pending against Perry Hospital, Universal Radiology and Staff Care.
In all, the women did not have breast cancer but claimed emotional distress from having to be retested and the fear that they might have the potentially life-threatening disease.
The awards against Rapraeger were the result of earlier default judgments after she did not respond to the lawsuits. Rapraeger apparently does not have an attorney representing her in the civil proceedings.
Ennis gave Macon attorney Neal Graham until May 30 to decide whether to seek separate damages hearings against Rapraeger in the remaining 15 cases or to seek those damages when the other cases go before individual juries. There was also mention of forgoing jury trials and trying the cases before Ennis. Graham said he would have to discuss that possibility with each of his clients.
Graham represents all of the women in the pending lawsuits in Superior Court. He also represented four others who filed in Superior Court but settled out of court. He declined comment on the confidential settlements.
I do not want to say anything that might influence the judge or jury, Graham said. I do look forward to presenting the case before a jury.
Gag order denied
Also Tuesday, Ennis announced his ruling denying a gag order and the sealing of court records sought by Houston Healthcare and the other defendants and opposed by Graham and The Telegraph.
While the judges ruling was related to the two cases before the court Tuesday, Ennis said from the bench that he intends to apply that ruling to all of the cases.
I just dont think theres a basis for a gag order, Ennis said.
In his ruling, Ennis wrote, The court prefers public accessibility of court records, and while the court may in extreme cases, limit access by the public to court documents and proceedings, the court in this case does not find that the harm otherwise resulting to the privacy of persons of interest in this case is clearly outweighed by public interest in the matter.
Ennis also asked attorneys about the possibility of mediation.
Houston Healthcare attorney Julye Johns said settlements in the pending cases were offered in 2012 but rejected.
As a result, Johns said there was no chance for mediation.
Also, in other cases in which the women did have cancer, settlements were reached, Johns told the judge.
Outside of the courtroom, Johns declined to say how many cases there were in which women had cancer or comment further.
During the hearing, Ennis asked Universal Radiology attorney Emmitte Griggs and Staff Care attorney John Train to quickly file, if desired, motions for dismissal of the case. Houston Healthcares motion for summary judgment already has been filed but has not been ruled upon.
Griggs said he had been waiting to see how the judge ruled on Houston Healthcares motion, while Train said he anticipated filing a motion for summary judgment based on similar filings in other cases.
Staff Care provided a radiologist to Universal Radiology that contracted with Perry Hospital to do mammogram readings. Rapraeger allegedly logged on to a computer with passwords of a radiologist and entered the falsified results.
Houston Healthcare System Inc., which operates Perry Hospital, has maintained that Rapraeger acted alone.
Of the alleged 1,000 falsified reports, 10 women who had cancer were named in the Houston County criminal indictment against Rapraeger. Two have since died, including Miriam Mizell of Perry whose lawsuit in Bibb County State Court was settled before her death.
Graham, who also represented her, declined comment on the confidential settlement.
Also Tuesday, Graham filed a motion for sanctions against Houston Healthcare and the other defendants for allegedly failing to disclose information as Ennis previously ordered, such as a contract with a public relations firm, and for destruction of evidence, such as Rapraegers computer hard drive. Houston Healthcare has said that it could not provide the hard drive because Rapraegers computer was thrown away and replaced during a routine hardware update, according to an attachment to the motion.
In addition, Ennis reiterated an earlier ruling from the bench that denied Houston Healthcares motion to move the trial to Houston County where Perry Hospital is located. Rapraegers residence in Macon.