$200m deal reached over US gynaecologist who secretly taped patients

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The health-care affiliate of a top US medical school is to pay US$190 million (S$235 million) to patients of a gynaecologist who secretly photographed and videotaped them, lawyers said on Monday.

At least 8,500 women are party to the class action suit involving Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, Maryland and physician Nikita Levy, who took his life in February 2013.

In a statement, Jonathan Schochor and Howard Janet, lawyers for the plaintiffs, said a proposed settlement of US$190 million had been approved by the Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The amount is thought to be one of the highest ever in the United States in a lawsuit involving misconduct by a physician.

"When learning of Dr Levy's behaviour, our clients were extremely distraught. They felt a great breach of faith and trust. They felt betrayed," they said.

"Now, with this proposed settlement, we can begin the process of healing our community."

Levy, a longtime women's community health physician on Johns Hopkins' staff, used a camera hidden inside a pen, among other surveillance devices, to surreptitiously record his patients.

"There were also allegations of boundary violations," the lawyers added without elaborating.

Levy committed suicide in his suburban home two weeks after the allegations against him first surfaced, putting a plastic bag over his head and filling it with helium. He was 54.

He left behind a farewell letter to his wife as well as computer hardware which, according to police at the time, contained an "extraordinary amount of evidence".

Johns Hopkins Health System is the holding company for a network of hospitals and clinics affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and its highly respected school of medicine.

"It is our hope that this settlement - and findings by law enforcement that images were not shared - helps those affected achieve a measure of closure," it said in a statement, adding that the payout would be covered by insurance.