Doctor Walks Tightrope in Response to Patient Emails
Jill Waterman was referred to Jon Gillet, DC, by her primary care doctor after a minor vehicle accident in early 2011. At the time, Ms. Waterman was critical of the care rendered by her previous chiropractors.
Posted in Risk Management on Friday, June 1, 2018
Ms. Waterman’s condition significantly improved after a couple of months of treatment with Dr. Gillet. On July 15, 2011, he dismissed her from care for the injuries she suffered from the car accident, with instructions to return for maintenance care as needed.
Three days later, Ms. Waterman emailed Dr. Gillet to ask if his email was private, and he replied that it was. Ms. Waterman then asked him to be her personal chiropractor for weekly maintenance care, as no other chiropractor could get it right. Dr. Gillet was flattered and responded that he would.
Ms. Waterman attended her first maintenance appointment, consisting primarily of stretching and flexibility exercises, on July 27, 2011. Dr. Gillet documented that Ms. Waterman tolerated the session well.
Later that day, Ms. Waterman emailed Dr. Gillet 12 provocative photographs with the comment, “I hope you like these. Let me know if they’re any good! Have fun!” Dr. Gillet replied, “OMG!!!” and “Amazing!!!”
Early the next morning, Dr. Gillet emailed Ms. Waterman that he couldn’t get over her sexy photos, but they “couldn’t do this.” Dr. Gillet promised he’d never share the pictures, and he would look forward to their continued visits—even more so now.
Ms. Waterman and Dr. Gillet exchanged several emails that morning, including one in which Dr. Gillet stated, “I just keep envisioning what other photos may have been taken!! Ahhhh!!! But alas……” Twenty-three minutes later, Ms. Waterman replied, “Which panties do you prefer—grey or purple?” Attached to the email were eight photos of Ms. Waterman wearing nothing but panties.
Between August and October 2011, Ms. Waterman and Dr. Gillet exchanged many more emails, several of which included photos and were flirtatious in nature. On October 25, 2011, Ms. Waterman emailed, “I’ve never been so attracted to a man in my entire life. I find everything about you fascinating.”
After Ms. Waterman’s November 1, 2011, appointment, she emailed Dr. Gillet that she wished she knew how he felt about her. Dr. Gillet responded that although she was a beautiful woman, he was her doctor and a happily married man and he wanted to keep it that way. He added that he would see her the following week. Ms. Waterman continued to attend her weekly appointments with Dr. Gillet—and to send him similar emails periodically.
Dr. Gillet Addresses Impropriety More Forthrightly
Dr. Gillet discontinued responding to Ms. Waterman’s emails after his November 1 reply. However, on December 6, 2011, he emailed, “The reason I have not responded to your emails is I don’t believe it is appropriate. Our conversations need to be kept within the office. If you respect my wishes, we can continue our doctor/patient relationship. If not, I can recommend some other chiropractors. If you are okay with my request, we can continue within the confines of the parameters I stated earlier.”
Despite this message, Ms. Waterman continued to send Dr. Gillet flirtatious, nontreatment-related emails every week or so through January 27, 2012.
At that point, he responded with essentially the same message as before. Ms. Waterman replied, “Wow! I’m embarrassed,” but she continued to attend her weekly appointments.
In early February 2012, Ms. Waterman emailed Dr. Gillet, asking him to conduct their next appointment at a hotel. Dr. Gillet replied: “Ms. Waterman, I have been clear on multiple occasions, both in email and verbally, that this situation is completely inappropriate and wrong. I am a happily married man. Respect that. I am your doctor. Please respect that. I will keep this between us and be your doctor but only if you conduct yourself within the parameters I set forth.” Ms. Waterman continued going to her weekly appointments.
On February 25, 2012, Ms. Waterman emailed Dr. Gillet, saying it was critical that he call her because her husband, Mick, found out about the prior emails. That day Dr. Gillet sent Ms. Waterman both an email and a certified letter dismissing her as a patient. Ms. Waterman responded to his email acknowledging the dismissal. She said she explained to Mick her interest in Dr. Gillet was unrequited, and she told her husband to stay away from him.
Later that day, Dr. Gillet left his office and was met by Mick who said he had hacked into his wife’s email and discovered that Dr. Gillet had been corresponding with her. Dr. Gillet told Mick that if he read the emails, he would know there was nothing going on between them and that Ms. Waterman’s overtures had been rejected.
The next day Dr. Gillet emailed Mick a copy of the prior dismissal letter sent to his wife and a comment that Ms. Waterman had harassed him. He also attached multiple emails exchanged between him and Ms. Waterman.
On February 28, 2012, Ms. Waterman emailed Dr. Gillet to tell him she found his emails to Mick, adding that she had no idea her presence was so abhorrent to him. Fearing the allegations would surface or he would be served with a lawsuit, Dr. Gillet revealed the flirtatious emails and photos to his mother, who worked in the clinic, and to his wife.
About a month later, Dr. Gillet received two emails from attorney Sally Lee:
- The first email stated that Ms. Lee had been retained by Ms. Waterman (now the plaintiff) to address concerns about Dr. Gillet’s clinical treatment and his breach of patient confidentiality. Ms. Lee asked Dr. Gillet for his malpractice insurance information.
- The second email indicated that Ms. Waterman wanted to contact Dr. Gillet confidentially and resolve the matter privately.
When Dr. Gillet received this correspondence, he contacted NCMIC, his malpractice insurance carrier. An NCMIC representative contacted Ms. Lee on March 20, 2012, requesting a detailed narrative of Ms. Waterman’s allegations and the documentation to support those allegations.
No further communication occurred until November 21, 2012, when Dr. Gillet received a letter from Ms. Lee. The letter contended Ms. Waterman suffered emotionally from the chiropractic treatment, and Dr. Gillet’s disclosure of confidential patient information caused her substantial harm as it led to physical abuse by her husband. The letter stated Ms. Lee would send a detailed demand letter within the next week.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t until February 21, 2013, that Ms. Lee faxed a complaint to NCMIC captioned “Jill Waterman v. Jon Gillet, D.C.,” which indicated her intent to file the action on the following day. However, the complaint said that Ms. Lee was open to discussion to resolve the matter.
At that point, NCMIC retained Floyd Andrews as defense counsel who asked Dr. Gillet how he would like to resolve the matter. Recognizing his standing in the community could be adversely affected by the allegations, Dr. Gillet said he would like to have it handled as quickly as possible.
Mr. Andrews proposed mediation, and Ms. Lee initially agreed but later declined as her client did not want to contribute toward mediation costs. Mr. Andrews advised against paying the entire mediation costs as the defense would appear too eager to resolve the claim. Consequently, no mediation was held.
In December 2013, Ms. Waterman finally provided her written discovery responses. Because she claimed damages of more than $400,000, an early resolution seemed unlikely. Therefore, the defense team saw no downside with deposing Ms. Waterman. However, repeated requests to set the deposition date went unheeded. On April 28, 2014, plaintiff attorney Lee finally contacted defense counsel—not to schedule the deposition but to advise she was withdrawing as Ms. Waterman’s attorney. Mr. Andrews never received notice of a new plaintiff counsel, so he proceeded to communicate with Ms. Lee in the meantime.
On June 12, 2014, Ms. Lee inquired if there was any interest in resolving the matter. Defense counsel responded that he was willing to listen, but he didn’t believe the plaintiff had a good case in terms of liability, causation or damages.
After much back and forth, the case ultimately settled for $3,500 after Dr. Gillet provided his written consent. NCMIC’s legal costs to defend the claim were just under $25,000.