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STS&G News Goodove in the News Recent Posts Archive 2012

Michael Goodove turns down $10K offer and gets $150,000 jury verdict

In a personal injury case stemming from a motor vehicle collision, a recent mediation with a retired Judge resulted in a top offer of $10,000 from State Farm Insurance Company.  The case was tried in Virginia Beach Circuit Court for 2 days resulting in a jury verdict in the amount of $150,000.  State Farm made a final offer of $20,000 during the first day of trial, but it was rejected and the case was tried to verdict.  In addition to paying the full amount of the verdict, Michael Goodove also held State Farm responsible for court costs. State Farm hired a local orthopedic surgeon to testify that our client’s injuries were not accident-related.  Goodove established through cross-examination that State Farm’s expert had received excessive compensation and uncovered the expert’s relationship with State Farm and other insurance companies.  The trial team consisted of Michael Goodove and Elizabeth Ufkes.

STS&G News Goodove in the News Archive 2012

Swartz, Taliaferro, Swartz & Goodove, P.C. Law Office Building

On January 1, 2012, Swartz, Taliaferro, Swartz & Goodove, P.C. relocated to its new law office building in historic downtown Norfolk. The firm continues its practice in the areas of personal injury, criminal and trial law. The new address is 220 West Freemason Street, Norfolk, VA 23510. We are located on the corner of Freemason and Duke Street in historic downtown Norfolk and handle cases all throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are located within blocks of both the Norfolk Federal Courthouse and the Norfolk Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.

STS&G News Goodove in the News Archive 2010

Michael Goodove comments on a new website that helps drivers avoid tickets and dui checkpoints.

Updated: Tuesday, 27 Jul 2010, 6:17 AM EDT
Published : Monday, 26 Jul 2010, 9:16 PM EDT

Eric Harryman
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – If you own a GPS or a smartphone, the latest technology to help you avoid getting expensive traffic tickets is literally a download away.

GPS tracking is designed to make driving more safe, but it also has the power to alert you to areas that could cost you if you break a traffic law. There are a few similar systems, but the one WAVY.com tested is called Phantom Alert.com.

Retired firefighter and Newport News resident Dennis Ricketts offered to take the system through its paces. Like thousands of other drivers, Ricketts doesn’t drive anywhere without his GPS. But Dennis said that’s not because he is afraid of getting lost.

Dennis’ GPS is armed with something others are not. The GPS tracking system, called Phantom Alert, that he downloaded more than a year ago, started working immediately.

“Alert, red light camera ahead,” the GPS said.

Getting caught by a red light camera can mean a traffic citation along with a fine of $50 that shows up in your mailbox.

“I know where they are, a lot of other people may not. It’s like a tool in a toolbox for your car. If you choose to use it, you’ll be a better driver,” said Ricketts.

Thirty seconds down the road, the Phantom Alert system spoke out again.

“Alert, school zone ahead. Reduce speed,” said the computerized GPS voice.

It’s not just school zones or red light cameras though, the system also alerts drivers to railroad crossings, speed traps and D.U.I. checkpoints, to name a few. With a paid subscription and a quick download, the system is ready to use.

The hope for many users is that the system will prevent traffic tickets, but the reality is that the system is only as reliable as its users. That’s because drivers who use the system, fuel the system by calling in or e-mailing hot spots, other users are then alerted through instant downloads.

WAVY.com wanted to find out how police feel about the technology, especially since those red light cameras can mean big revenue for the city. Virginia Beach Police Officer Jimmy Barnes said Phantom Alert and other similar systems actually enhance what they are trying to do.

“We think it’s great,” he said. “Technology works on both sides. We’re using technology to enforce the laws, technology also can tell you where we’re enforcing the law.”

But the alerts for DUI checkpoints could help drivers potentially avoid a checkpoint, after being notified of when and where it’s happening.

“Am I going to go through a DUI checkpoint? If it changes driver behavior, maybe I shouldn’t drive tonight or maybe I should get a designated driver, we’re all for that,” said Barnes.

Not everyone feels that way.

Mike Goodove, a Norfolk attorney and president of the Southside Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lost his brother to a drunk driver. Goodove agreed Phantom Alert does some good things, but he says DUI checkpoint alerts aren’t one of them.

“It’s personal responsibility. I don’t think we can support a tool that encourages people to drink, drive and avoid detection,” Goodove said.

Even though many local cities publicize information about DUI checkpoints, Goodove says the problem is that users can get instant notification.

“When you’re behind the wheel and you get information that can help you avoid detection, which translates to you’re a danger to the public, that can’t be a good thing,” said Goodove.

Archive 2006 STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot

Man pleads guilty to manslaughter in fatal crash

Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA)

NORFOLK – As Shane Williams prepared to leave the party, several people tried to stop him from driving.

Shaun Lawhorn asked for Williams’ keys. Lawhorn’s wife, Kate, the designated driver that evening, offered Williams a ride. Several people tried to give Williams their cards for Safe Ride , a Navy program that pays for cab fare.

They made the efforts because Williams had been drinking at a series of gatherings since 11 a.m., and had consumed beer, mixed drinks, gin and shots of Jagermeister. He refused their offers and left in his white Ford pickup about 11 p.m. on Feb. 24.

Just after midnight, Williams crashed head-on into a car driven by Anthony Dominic Wilson on Interstate 264. Williams was driving the wrong way, headed east in the west bound lanes. Williams told police and paramedics that he’d had two or three drinks.

Wilson, 26, died on the highway. When paramedics told Williams, he started crying.

“Oh God, help me please,” he said.

“Please forgive me. I don’t know what’s going on. Please forgive me, Lord.”

In Norfolk Circuit Court on Thursday, Williams, 30, pleaded guilty to aggravated involuntary manslaughter for Wilson’s death. Wilson’s parents cried quietly in the courtroom.

Prosecutor Ron Batliner wrote the account of Williams’ activities before the wreck based on interviews with people at the parties, witnesses at the roadside, and on investigations by State Police, Norfolk Police, and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. Williams was in the Navy at the time of the crash.

Several people saw Williams driving the wrong way on I-264 before the crash. One woman called 911. Another swerved out of Williams’ way, only to see the collision in his rear-view mirror. Williams told people who had stopped to help that he had come from the HOV ramp.

The ramp was 200 yards away from the wreck, which happened near Newtown Road. Witnesses and State Police said the gates were down.

Batliner did not present evidence of Williams’ blood-alcohol concentration.

But Michael Goodove, an attorney representing Wilson’s family, said it was more than twice the legal limit considered evidence of intoxication.

Wilson was an only child, and the father of a 5-year-old boy, Goodove said.

nReach Michelle Washington at (757) 446-2287 or michelle. washington@pilotonline.com.


Shane Williams faces a maximum of 20 years in the traffic death of Anthony Dominic Wilson. Williams’ sentencing is scheduled for January. He remains free on bond until then.

Copyright (c) 2006 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 13616275

Archive 2005 STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot

Some question lawyer’s melding of cause, career



NORFOLK – Almost 15 years ago, Michael L. Goodove was a law school student when his legal career and life were altered forever.

On a February morning in 1990, Goodove’s younger brother, Jeffrey, was riding in a car that was hit by another vehicle on a narrow, hilly road in Charlottesville.

Jeffrey, a University of Virginia student, was killed instantly.

The driver of the other car was drunk.

Goodove received the tragic news at George Mason University from his mother via telephone.

“I got the call nobody wants to get,” Goodove recalled in a recent interview. “I had never experienced death until my brother was killed. It was the first funeral I ever went to.”

That combination – drunken driving and tragedy – profoundly changed Goodove’s personal life. His family, especially his parents, were never the same.

“It is extremely unnatural to bury a child,” said Goodove, who is now married with three children . “That is something no one should ever have to go through.”

The experience of loss also came to define much of Goodove’s professional life, providing both controversy and a cause – as well as a source of commerce – to his vocation as a lawyer .

In the years since his brother’s death, Goodove has become a lawyer who represents people injured by drunken drivers and a prominent spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He has been the group’s leader for the past 12 years.

In that capacity, Goodove has helped many families navigate the legal system after loved ones were injured or killed by DUI offenders.

“I consider what he does to be a real public service,” said Kaye Walsh, whose daughter, Robin Gustafson, was killed by a drunken driver in Virginia Beach in 1997. “He pulled us through the whole process.”

Goodove also has lobbied the General Assembly tirelessly to stiffen penalties for people convicted of DUI. Virginia now has some of the toughest drunken-driving laws in the country.

Through the years, Goodove became the face of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in South Hampton Roads, an implausible development because Goodove clearly is not a mother.

But his regular appearances in court and on television have made Goodove’s good looks and quiet confidence well-known among those interested in or personally touched by drunken driving.

A recent television advertisement by his Norfolk law firm – Rabinowitz, Swartz, Taliaferro, Swartz & Goodove – focuses on Goodove’s personal story of tragedy.

The blending of commerce with crusade makes some in the legal community uncomfortable. They say Goodove uses his advocacy role, in part, to get business for his law firm.

But some lawyers support Goodove’s ability to turn a passionate personal interest into something that helps him in his professional life.

“I don’t see any conflict,” said Michael I. Ashe, a Virginia Beach lawyer and avid cyclist with a long history of representing fellow cyclists in personal-injury cases.

The advertisement, Ashe said, is only “stating that you are a lawyer who happens to know this particular field backward and forward.”

Other lawyers say Goodove’s level of commitment to the organization makes conflict allegations ridiculous.

“If he had to pay money to be involved with MADD, he would do it,” said Norfolk lawyer Larry Cardon. “He has a passion for this.”

To Goodove, the criticism is unfounded.

For one thing, he said, he always provides drunken-driving victims a list of other lawyers who could represent them in any legal proceeding. Those who choose him are a very small part of his legal practice, he said.

“Never once did I have any financial motivation for getting involved in it,” Goodove said. “I felt that I had a tool that would really help these victims that no one else had.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Early on, Goodove was as carefree and selfish as most recent college graduates. He wanted a glitzy career on Wall Street, not a job where grieving was an integral part of every working day.

He attended law school at the urging of his parents. Law would provide a profession he could always fall back on, they said.

His legal training had hardly begun when his brother was killed. It was a tremendous shock. “He was not just my brother; he was my best friend,” Goodove said.

The family gathered at home in South Hampton Roads to bury Jeffrey, hoping to bring the person who had killed him to justice. Soon, however, the reality of Virginia’s lax drunken-driving laws became depressingly apparent.

They found the police had botched the evidence collection. The drunken driver had been allowed to dispose of the beer in his car before he was questioned by authorities. That led prosecutors in Charlottesville not to pursue criminal charges.

The Goodove family persevered. Eventually, they had to be satisfied with a wrongful-death lawsuit. Criminal charges were never filed.

At that point, Goodove recalled, he began to “detach” from the situation to escape the tragic memories haunting the rest of his family. Returning to George Mason University, he plunged back into his law studies.

But he was troubled by the way he and his family had been treated by authorities. He thought the system was out of whack. He thought it cared little for bringing DUI offenders to justice and nothing for victims.

Soul searching followed, along with an internship in the Fairfax County prosecutor’s office.

“I discovered that I was good in court and liked wearing the white hat and being the good guy,” Goodove said.

When he returned to his hometown of Virginia Beach, he decided to devote his career to helping victims. He went to work for a personal injury law firm and contacted the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving .

After starting a local chapter , attending conferences and talking to others, he concluded that drunken driving was a societal problem, deeply imbedded in the culture, cutting across economic strata.

The key problem was that most drunken drivers were walking away from even fatal accidents with rarely more than a slap on the wrist .

“The problem we faced was not so much the convictions but the punishment,” Goodove said.

Goodove’s goal was to build an organization with staying power that would help reshape attitudes over the long term.

That presence has allowed Mothers Against Drunk Driving to keep the image of victims before the media and public. Eventually, it has swung public opinion toward stiffer penalties, especially for repeat offenders.

Another victory was the acceptance of victim-impact statements after convictions. Under the old system, DUI offenders would walk away with probation, without the victims’ families being able to say how the injury or death had affected them.

Once victim-impact statements became part of the law, penalties became harsher. “They can be very powerful,” Goodove said.

Goodove strived to become a bridge between victims and prosecutors, leading the uninitiated through the maze like legal process that had so frustrated his own family.

Initially, Goodove faced opposition. Some judges thought Mothers Against Drunk Driving wanted to abolish alcohol use and that Goodove was a teetotaler who did not want to be around drinkers.

Neither was true.

Goodove drinks occasionally but makes certain he always has alternative transportation. And Mothers Against Drunk Driving has no intention of trying to stop people from drinking, only drinking and driving.

Today, when contacted by a DUI victim, Goodove meets the family and counsels them about what to expect. He provides them with support and advice and helps them prepare victim-impact statements at the appropriate time.

As the number of DUI accidents increases, so do the organization’s membership and donor rolls.

“Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragic event to make it close to your heart,” Goodove said.

Victims who survive have a simple choice, Goodove said: “You can vent angrily and let that dominate you, or you can use the pain in a cathartic manner to do some good.”

* Reach Jon Frank at 222-5122 or jon.frank@pilotonline.com.

{CAPTION} Michael L. Goodove’s brother was killed by a drunken driver 15 years ago. Goodove, right, a lawyer who also heads the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has championed his cause and worked for tougher laws in Virginia.

Mort Fryman The Virginian-Pilot

Copyright (c) 2005 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 7828775

Archive 2003 STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot

Driver indicted on charges in two DUI arrests

Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA)


The man accused of fleeing a crash that took the life of a Norfolk high school student was indicted Wednesday on felony charges of driving under the influence and hit and run.

Roy Lee Everett, 30, of Norfolk may be indicted on more charges in the future, said Commonwealth’s Attorney John R. Doyle III. Doyle declined to give details.

Everett’s lawyer, Bobby L. Howlett Jr., could not be reached for comment.

Everett was also indicted Wednesday on separate charges of DUI and driving drunk on a revoked license. Those charges stemmed from an April 14 arrest by an off-duty Norfolk police officer.

Officer W.E. Whiteside has testified he saw Everett driving recklessly, followed him and arrested him for DUI. Hours later, records show, Everett was freed on $1,000 bond. At the time, he had three prior DUI convictions in Virginia Beach.

On May 6, police say, Everett was at the wheel of a Dodge pickup that collided with a two-door Honda at North Military Highway and Azalea Garden Road. The crash killed 16-year-old Landon W. Chambers, a passenger in the car, and injured his brother, Barney.

Witnesses said Everett crawled from the pickup, which had turned onto its side, and fled on foot. Bystanders stopped him and held him for police, witnesses said.

He has been in custody since then and was being held without bond Wednesday, a spokesman for the City Jail said.

The charges in Wednesday’s indictment carry potential five-year prison terms, except for the hit-and-run charge. That count carries up to 10 years behind bars, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James F. Entas.

Michael Goodove, an attorney who is president of the Southside Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, speculated that prosecutors may have indicted Everett on DUI in order to hold him while they investigate the case further.

Everett also faces criminal charges in Virginia Beach, where, authorities allege, he posed as his brother when he was charged in yet another DUI case last October. He faces counts of DUI, forgery of a public document, identity fraud and a license-related charge.

Roy L. Everett was indicted Wednesday on multiple charges from two
incidents, including one that killed a 16-year-old.

Copyright (c) 2003 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 0306190069

Archive 2003 STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot

More charges against DUI suspect prosecutors say he claimed he was his brother to avoid troubles


The man accused of driving drunk and killing a Lake Taylor High School honor student in a crash this month now faces new charges that he posed as his brother during a traffic stop last year to avoid prosecution.

Roy Lee Everett, 30, was charged Wednesday with forging a public document, identity theft and fourth-offense driving under the influence. Police served the warrants at the Norfolk City Jail, where Everett is being held without bond.

Virginia Beach police said Everett posed as his brother during a DUI stop in October – seven months before the collision in Norfolk that killed 16-year-old Landon W. Chambers.

Everett is scheduled to be arraigned on the new felony charges and two related misdemeanor traffic offenses on May 30 in Virginia Beach General District Court.

On May 6, he was at the wheel of a pickup truck that ran a red light on Azalea Garden Road and headed into the path of a Honda Civic on North Military Highway in Norfolk, police said. The impact flipped the pickup on its side and crumpled the Honda.

Landon Chambers, a passenger in the Honda, died hours later. The driver was his brother, Barney, who was injured and is recovering.

Police and witnesses said Everett crawled out of the pickup’s rear window and ran. Citizens cornered and detained him nearby. He has been charged with DUI and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, all felonies, as well as running a red light and eight other traffic offenses.

If Everett had been convicted in the October case, he likely would have been in jail serving a 12-month sentence – not on the road earlier this month.

Instead, police said Thursday, he posed as his brother, Billy Wilson Everett, when a Beach police officer stopped him on Oct. 16 at South Independence Boulevard and Dahlia Drive.

Court records show that the driver then was in a 1997 Dodge van.

It is not apparent from records why the man was stopped.

But Officer D.C. Meeks charged the driver, “Billy Everett,” with DUI.

The driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13, court records show. Virginia’s legal limit is 0.08.

The man was freed on $1,200 bond.

The charges were withdrawn when Billy Everett showed up Dec. 3 in Virginia Beach General District Court and Meeks realized that he was not the driver he had arrested.

Ray Eisenberg, a Virginia Beach police captain, said Meeks recognized Roy Everett as the actual driver when his photo appeared in The Virginian-Pilot after this month’s fatal accident in Norfolk. That led to the reinstatement of the DUI charge and to the two new felonies.

Mike Goodove, president of the Southside Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, praised the police for sticking with the case.

“We applaud the police department and the prosecutors for following up on these charges to make sure that justice is pursued,” Goodove said.

He has been critical of the way Everett’s prior offenses – including three DUI convictions in Virginia Beach – were handled, allowing him to find a way to continue driving.

But on Thursday, Goodove said Virginia Beach traditionally has done a “terrific” job on DUI prosecutions and that he did not know if any procedures were skipped during last fall’s investigation.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey L. Bryant III said Thursday he believes proper procedure was followed by the police officer and in court when the charges were removed in December.

This is not the first time Roy Everett has been accused of passing himself off as his brother.

Norfolk court records show that he did so after he was stopped last year for speeding on North Military Highway.

At 3:55 a.m. on April 21, 2002, Norfolk police Officer R.C. Cook wrote two tickets to a man driving a 1994 Mercedes. The man identified himself as Billy W. Everett.

Cook charged him with driving 67 mph in a 45-mph zone and for driving without a license.

“He had memorized all his brother’s information,” said Norfolk police spokesman Chris Amos. “He had no ID.”

Cook was suspicious, Amos said, and had the man roll his thumb in ink and mark the summonses with his thumbprint.

Roy Everett later contacted the commonweath’s attorney’s office and admitted what he had done, Amos said.

The charges against Billy Everett were withdrawn. Cook wrote new summonses charging Roy Everett with speeding and driving with a suspended or revoked license, court records show. Cook also charged Roy Everett with assuming a false name.

He was convicted of the charges and was fined $125, plus court costs, records show. He also received a 60-day suspended sentence, according to online court records.

Though lacking a valid license, Roy Everett continued to drive, authorities said.

Only weeks before the accident that took the life of Landon Chambers, Everett was arrested and charged with DUI in Norfolk. But Magistrate J.D. Bullock Jr. set his bail at $1,000, and Everett was freed within hours. That case is pending.

Bobby L. Howlett Jr., Everett’s attorney, did not return telephone calls.

Attempts to reach Billy Everett have been unsuccessful.

Reach Jon Frank at jfrank(AT)pilotonline.com or 446-2277

Copyright (c) 2003 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 0305230125

Archive 2003 STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot

Driver faced DUI charge three weeks before crash


A man facing his seventh drunken-driving charge after the crash Tuesday that killed a high school student was charged with driving drunk three weeks ago, but regained his freedom within hours by posting a $1,000 bond.

Roy Lee Everett, 30, was charged Tuesday with running a red light, driving under the influence and 10 other violations in the crash that killed 16-year-old Landon Chambers and injured his brother, Barney.

Everett is being held without bail in the Norfolk City Jail.

Everett has been behind bars before. He has three previous DUI convictions in Virginia Beach. And he was arrested for drunken driving most recently on April 14.

That’s when, court records say, Norfolk Officer W.E. Whiteside stopped him for driving recklessly at the wheel of a Jaguar.

Whiteside smelled alcohol.

“I asked if he had been drinking and he stated yes, 4 Mike’s Lemonades in an hour,” Whiteside wrote in papers filed in Norfolk General District Court.

A Department of Motor Vehicles records check showed Everett’s three prior convictions for DUI, Whiteside noted, as well as three previous convictions for driving on a suspended license.

In addition to the third-offense DUI, Whiteside charged Everett with driving after his driving privileges had been suspended.

Magistrate J.D. Bullock Jr. set Everett’s bond at $1,000 at 3:16 a.m. on April 14, according to court records. Everett posted bail through a bonding company at 4:57 a.m. and was freed.

Michael Goodove, an attorney and president of the Southside Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said anyone charged with a third-offense DUI, a felony, should not be allowed to post a bond and be freed from custody.

“Our position is the criminal justice system’s paramount responsibility is to protect lives,” he said. “Research has shown that your hardcore, repetitive drunk-driving offenders are the folks most

likely to injure or kill somebody.”

Three weeks after his release, police contend, Everett drove a pickup through a red light at North Military Highway and Azalea Garden Road into the path of the Chambers brothers, who were traveling in a Honda Civic. The impact crumpled their car and flipped the pickup on its side. Witnesses said Everett climbed from the pickup’s rear window and ran. Citizens cornered him behind a carpet store until police arrived to arrest him.

Bullock could not be reached for comment.

Chief Magistrate Beth B. Pennington said she spoke with him briefly about the bond and intends to meet with him in the coming week.

“At this point, I have to trust the magistrate’s judgment,” she said. “He’s been a magistrate for a while.”

By setting bonds, magistrates try to ensure that defendants show up in court, she said, noting they don’t determine guilt or innocence. She said they consider the length of time a defendant has lived in the area, family ties, any prior record and their likelihood to appear in court.

“No matter how high it’s set, a person can still bond out,” Pennington said.

This week’s DUI charge is the latest in a long list of serious driving infractions for Everett, stretching back to at least 1994.

During the past eight years, Everett has been convicted multiple times for a variety of charges, including reckless driving and speeding.

Everett’s three DUI convictions in Virginia Beach started with a charge in 1994. Five years later, in May 1999, Everett was charged with DUI, second offense.

In December 1999, he was charged again with DUI, second offense.

That last charge resulted in Everett getting the maximum jail penalty for second-offense-DUI – 12 months in jail, according Judge Albert D. Alberi, who sentenced Everett in Virginia Beach General District Court.

But Alberi suspended 11 months of the time and allowed Everett to serve the resulting monthlong sentence on weekends in the Virginia Beach City Jail.

It was not clear on Friday why Everett was not charged that December with DUI, third offense.

DUI, third offense, became a felony when state law was changed by the General Assembly in July 1999. It carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and can be lodged against any drunken driver who has two prior DUI convictions within the past 10 years.

Mark T. Del Duca, a Virginia Beach lawyer and former Beach prosecutor, explained Friday that Everett’s December DUI charge in 1999 may have occurred before his May 1999 offense had made its way through the court system.

If that were the case, it may have been impossible for Everett to be charged with DUI, third offense, in December 1999, Del Duca said.

Everett also was charged with second-offense DUI in Norfolk in January 1998, but the count was dismissed, online court records say.

Another DUI charge, in Emporia in August 1997, was dismissed, according to online court records.

Reach Matthew Roy at mroy(AT)pilotonline.com or 446-2540.

Copyright (c) 2003 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 0305100125

STS&G News Goodove in the News Virginian-Pilot Archive 1996

Nurse, Sentara sued over traumatic abortion

The patient felt nervous enough. She was 4 1/2 months pregnant with a deformed fetus, lying on a hospital bed, waiting for an abortion. She knew it would be traumatic.

Into her room walked a nurse who, she says, turned her morning into a horror.

The nurse criticized the patient for choosing the abortion, told her she would never get over it, said she would have to celebrate her dead child’s birthday just as she celebrated her living child’s, the patient says.

Then, she says, the nurse started crying and said she was opposed to abortion. The nurse said she had never assisted in an abortion and told the patient that she would have to help her through the difficult procedure.

That was in December 1994. This month, the patient – using the pseudonym Jane Doe – sued Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the nurse, Nancy C. Benson of Norfolk, for medical malpractice and other alleged misdeeds.

She is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

This is the same abortion that prompted another lawsuit earlier this year. In that case, the nurse sued the hospital, claiming religious discrimination: She says she was fired for refusing to help with the Doe operation. That case is pending in federal court.

All sides agree that the nurse was taken off the abortion soon after the incident, suspended, then quit a few days later.

The patient sued Dec. 6 in Circuit Court under a pseudonym to protect her privacy. She says, in court papers, that she feared the nurse would withhold pain medication and would not help her through the procedure.

“This really doesn’t come down to whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice,” said Doe’s attorney, Michael L. Goodove. “She (the patient) has made a lawful decision to terminate a pregnancy and she should not be subject to someone else’s views. . . . A professional nurse should never, ever subject a patient to this kind of treatment.”

Sentara agrees that the nurse was out of line, even though it is a co-defendant in the new case. The company says it took swift action against the nurse for acting improperly.

“Sentara suspended (Benson) for imposing her views and judgment on a patient,” says a legal brief by Sentara’s attorney, William M. Furr, in the discrimination case. “(The nurse’s) conduct was totally inappropriate.”

The nurse’s attorney did not return repeated phone calls.

Taken together, the two lawsuits put Sentara and the nurse in awkward legal positions.

First, it means Sentara must defend itself against two lawsuits involving the same abortion. The suit filed by Benson says Sentara acted too strongly against the nurse. The suit filed by the patient says Sentara didn’t act strongly enough to protect her from the nurse.

Second, the two lawsuits put the nurse in an odd spot: She is suing Sentara in one case, but she is a co-defendant with Sentara in the other.

“Litigation makes strange bedfellows,” said a Sentara attorney, William E. Rachels Jr.

“The hospital is certainly caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Goodove, the patient’s attorney.

The nurse’s lawsuit was filed in March and is pending in federal court in Norfolk. A judge heard arguments last week and will rule soon on Sentara’s motion to throw the lawsuit out. The trial is scheduled for Jan. 14.

Court documents, including sworn depositions by the nurse, patient and her family, spell out what happened in the hospital room the morning of Dec. 22, 1994.

Jane Doe was about 20 weeks pregnant – halfway to her baby’s birth – but there were problems. Medical examinations found severe abnormalities in the fetus, including spina bifida, water on the brain and clubfeet, Goodove said.

After much agonizing, the patient and her husband decided to abort.

At Norfolk General, Nancy Benson was one of five nurses in the labor-and-delivery unit. She was assigned to the abortion.

Benson did not want to do the abortion, she says in her lawsuit. She says she had strong religious and moral objections. She says Sentara knew her feelings, yet ordered her to help with the Doe abortion.

Sentara says in court papers that Benson never told her supervisors how she felt and certainly never filed her objections in writing. If she had, Sentara says, the nurse never would have been assigned to abortions. Sentara also says that Benson could have swapped assignments with another nurse.

Benson says there was not enough time and, anyway, it violated her religious beliefs to ask someone else to help with an abortion.

About 7:30 a.m., Benson started an intravenous line and began giving the patient medications. What happened next is spelled out in Sentara’s legal brief in the discrimination case:

The nurse said, “I don’t do these,” meaning abortions. The nurse told Jane Doe that the abortion would always be with her, that she would never forget it, that it might be traumatic and it might come up later in her life.

The nurse also told Doe that she would need to celebrate the dead child’s birthday the same as her living child’s.

The nurse questioned the fetus’ deformity, according to the legal brief. She told Doe that there are boys and girls at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters born with this defect and they are beautiful. She told Doe there was some doubt as to the fetus’ birth defect and asked if Doe had gotten a second opinion.

At that point, the brief says, Doe asked Benson if she was opposed to abortion, and Benson said yes. The nurse started crying, told Doe she would have a hard time dealing with this and said she might never get over it. She asked the patient to help her – the nurse – get through the procedure.

John and Jane Doe complained and the nurse was removed. She was later suspended and eventually quit.

Benson says she was forced out because of her religious views. Sentara says Benson’s conduct was intolerable.

“Health care providers have a right to their religions,” Sentara’s legal brief states, “but they do not have a right to impose their religious views on their patients.”

The new lawsuit has not yet been served on Benson or Sentara, so they have not yet replied.

Meanwhile, a third lawsuit involving abortion at Norfolk General has been settled out of court.

In that case, another nurse – Deborah J. Michael of Gatesville, N.C. – claimed Sentara fired her for refusing to help with abortions. It was filed in March at the same time as Benson’s lawsuit and was scheduled for trial this month.

“Sentara was ready and willing to take this case to trial,” Furr said, “but agreed to a resolution of this case when Ms. Michael decided to conclude the lawsuit for personal and emotional reasons.” Further details are not available.

Copyright (c) 1996 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 9612200471