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More than 80 women accuse US doctor of sexual abuse in class-action lawsuit

In the weeks since his dismissal from a Boston hospital, the number of women accusing Dr Derrick Todd of sexually abusive medical exams has surpassed 80, adding to a spate of cases involving US physicians reported to have violated patients in their most vulnerable moments.

At least 82 women have joined a class-action lawsuit that was filed against Todd in a Massachusetts state court Wednesday, the plaintiffs’ attorney Drew Meyer told the Boston Globe.

The women’s complaint came after two others had filed separate, individual lawsuits against Todd, who voluntarily surrendered his medical license in September before his accusers’ portrayal of him as a serial sexual predator had more fully taken shape.

“Dr Todd performed inappropriate pelvic examinations, breast examinations and rectal examinations on patients … for his own sexual gratification,” read an excerpt of the lawsuit initiated Wednesday. The suit contended that Todd had inflicted “these horrifying, traumatizing and deplorable acts” on patients as far back as 2011 and continued until an investigation halted him this past July.

In an interview with the Boston television news station WBZ, Sabrina Soini and Samantha Sullivan – who are sisters – described enduring abuse at Todd’s hands during appointments in February and April.

“It was a 45-minute pelvic massage that at the end he had you sit down, and he talked with you, and he asked you all kinds of extremely inappropriate and personal questions about your sex life,” Soini said to the station.

Sullivan added to WBZ: “He was doing things that weren’t standard, weren’t typical of any normal gynecological exam and at that point, you know, I felt suspicious.” She recalled leaving the hospital saying to herself: “I think my doctor just sexually assaulted me.”

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In a statement to the Globe, an attorney for Todd said the rheumatologist maintains “he has done nothing wrong and will defend [himself] vigorously”.

An official at the medical center where Todd practiced, Brigham and Women’s hospital, told the Globe that facility leaders “immediately” began investigating him after receiving two anonymous complaints. They initially put him on leave but then decided to fire him on 31 July as the investigation evolved.

Todd offered his resignation as the hospital moved to dismiss him, according to local reports. Then, on 5 September, Todd voluntarily signed an agreement with the state medical licensing board to stop practicing. He has also been under investigation by state prosecutors and Boston police.

A more complete account of the allegations against Todd began emerging after a plaintiff who has chosen to remain anonymous sued him on 29 September. A former patient who has publicly identified herself as Mimi DiTrani filed a separate lawsuit seeking damages Tuesday accusing Todd of exploiting his “position of trust and authority to commit acts of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and serial abuse”.

DiTrani’s suit described how Todd would fondle her in exam rooms while asking invasive questions about her sexual history as he ostensibly treated her for a genetic condition affecting her joints and skin.

Wednesday’s lawsuit brought forth dozens of more plaintiffs seeking damages with claims that generally echo DiTraini’s. The complaint – whose lead plaintiff is listed as Nancy Larsen – recounts how Todd would convince patients who primarily needed care for arthritis and rheumatological problems that he should also perform gynecological and breast exams, often before and after traditional hours, as WBZ reported.

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Besides Todd, defendants named in the pending lawsuits include the hospital as well as physicians groups where he worked. The plaintiffs argue that Todd’s employers failed to competently supervise him and essentially allowed his abusive behavior, though statements from the sued entities insist the first complaints they received about the doctor were the ones that resulted in the actions against him so far.

“We are disappointed and saddened by these disturbing allegations and recognize the courage it takes for these patients to come forward,” said a statement from Charles River Medical Associates, to which Todd had belonged.

The lawsuits against Todd come about three months after prosecutors filed a litany of sex crime charges against New York City doctor Zhi Alan Cheng. Authorities allege he sexually abused at least three patients at the hospital where he worked while also raping three other women in his apartment.

Meanwhile, in July, Manhattan gynecologist Robert Hadden received a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted in federal court of sexually assaulting his patients during examinations.

In April, federal prosecutors charged New York City urologist Darius Paduch with sexually abusing patients at his offices, including minors. And last year, New York City neurologist Ricardo Cruciani was found guilty of sexually abusing a half-dozen patients before dying by apparent suicide in jail while awaiting sentencing.

Advocates say the cases collectively show how medical facilities can do more to root out potential abusers from medical settings, where patients face an inherent power imbalance with providers that leaves all the more at risk.