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Huntington gynecologist sued by ex-patient claiming unnecessary episiotomy during birth

Huntington gynecologist sued by ex-patient claiming unnecessary episiotomy during birth
A longtime gynecologist at Huntington Memorial Hospital is accused of sexual misconduct by the medical board. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

A Huntington Memorial Hospital obstetrician repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct against patients was sued this week by a woman who claims he committed “obstetrical violence” while delivering her child eight years ago.

The complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that Dr. Patrick Sutton performed a “medically unnecessary” episiotomy — the now-discouraged practice of cutting tissue around the vagina during labor to widen the birth canal — against her explicit wishes.

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The incision was made “so widely and deeply that she suffers severe effects to this day,” according to the complaint.

The suit, which identifies the patient only as Jane Doe D.M., names Sutton, Huntington and the hospital’s self-governing committee of doctors, known as the Medical Staff.

An attorney for Sutton denied the lawsuit’s claims and said his client does not perform unnecessary episiotomies.

“It’s an emergency procedure and its necessity is determined by the doctor at the time of crowning. It involves not only the health of the mother but also the health of the baby,” said John Burton. “Since it happens at that moment as an emergency procedure, informed consent is obtained in all cases before the birth.”

A Huntington spokeswoman said that as a policy, the hospital does not comment on pending litigation.

Sutton, 64, has practiced at the landmark Pasadena medical center since 1989 and colleagues have repeatedly elected him department chairman. He was slated to run the obstetrics and gynecology department starting in January, but Huntington announced he was no longer in hospital leadership earlier this month after The Times reported that a fifth woman had accused him of sexual misconduct.

In Thursday’s complaint, the attorney for the woman described Sutton as “a violent sexual predator” and alleged that the hospital and its staff was aware of his problems and “gave cover” to him.

“Huntington Hospital knew and had known for years that Dr. Sutton was a danger to the women he treated: a ticking time bomb with control issues and uncontrolled sexual and physically aggressive tendencies toward women that continuously and systematically went off,” attorney Raymond Boucher wrote.

Over the last 20 years, Sutton has been accused of inappropriate touching and suggestive remarks to patients by the Medical Board of California in three disciplinary proceedings and in a civil lawsuit filed by two former patients. Four of those cases were settled without any admission of sexual wrongdoing by Sutton. The fifth is pending, and Sutton has said through an attorney that the claim is baseless.

Earlier this month, three women filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing Sutton of subjecting them to unwanted sexual remarks in the 1990s.

His lawyer Burton noted that Sutton had delivered more than 6,000 babies over three decades and had enjoyed a stellar reputation prior to recent news coverage. He said the lawsuits are barred by the statute of limitations and suggested the new claims were an attempt by plaintiff’s attorneys to round up clients.

“They are just advertising for cases,” Burton said. “This is an extremely difficult, challenging area that requires split-second judgment.”

The woman’s lawsuit stems from prenatal care Sutton provided her in 2010 as well as his delivery of her son that year at Huntington. According to the lawsuit, the woman wrote a “birth plan” spelling out her preferences for delivering her child. One was that she wanted to avoid an episiotomy, according to the suit.

Episiotomies were once commonplace, with up to 90% of women delivering vaginally in the 1970s having them. But as research indicated the incisions offered little benefit and increased the risk for severe tears that led to incontinence and other problems, authorities in the field began recommending against their routine use. Some watchdog groups have advocated that hospitals aim for an episiotomy rate of 5%.

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Sutton “became defensive and irritated” when the woman told him she didn’t want an episiotomy, according to the suit.

He told her “that birth plans are silly, and that he knew what he was doing,” the suit states.

She went into labor on Nov. 24, 2010, and rushed to Huntington with her husband. Sutton later arrived, and as her child’s head was crowning, he cut her perineum “deeply and wide open … almost up to her anus,” according to the lawsuit.

Sutton stitched her wound, but she experienced side effects, including heavy bleeding, pain and stool passing through her vagina, according to the suit.

When she informed Sutton, he told her everything “looks great” and that her wound would eventually heal, the lawsuit states.

To this day, she suffers complications, the suit alleges.

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