Barto sex abuse survivors file lawsuit against him and two medical institutions
EBENSBURG — A lawsuit against disgraced former pediatrician Johnnie “Jack” Barto, now a state prison inmate, and the clinic where he worked was filed Tuesday afternoon in the Cambria County Prothonotary’s Office.
The complaint raises questions of duty of care and reasonable foreseeability of harm and asks for compensatory and punitive damages for the five plaintiffs, former patients and sexual abuse survivors of Barto. The civil action against Barto, Johnstown-based Laurel Pediatric Associates and Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, alleged to be his employers when he committed his crimes, was announced Wednesday morning from the Cambria County Courthouse steps by attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
“Because of their youth and desire to remain anonymous at this time, they are not appearing here today,” said attorney Sara Klein of Dalton & Associates of Wilmington, Delaware. The law firm said it is representing more than 30 survivors of Barto’s sexual assaults. “But their sister survivors, who have decided to go public, are here with me to stand with them and to speak on their behalf.”
For Klein, the case is personal. She is the first known survivor of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in January 2018 after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over the previous two decades.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three adult females and a minor girl and boy whose sexual abuse occurred within Pennsylvania’s existing statute of limitations, allowing them to try to obtain a civil remedy for their injuries, she said.
Barto, 71, of Johnstown, was sentenced March 18 to 79 to 158 years in state prison for the sexual violation of children that spanned decades and typically involved girls and boys between ages 8 and 12.
The lawsuit alleges that during medical exams at Laurel Pediatric Associates, Barto groped and fondled the breasts and genitals of his young patients under the guise of performing his work as a pediatrician. None of them went to Barto for treatment of their breasts or genitals, according to the lawsuit.
“At all times . . . Barto was acting in the course and scope of his employment with defendants,” the lawsuit reads.
Laurel Pediatric Associates and Conemaugh knew or should have known that Barto had engaged in unlawful, sexually abusive conduct in the past and was continuing to do so and that he “posed an unreasonably high risk of harm to minors,” according to the lawsuit.
“Jack Barto was credibly accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl in 1994 and was the subject of multiple accusations and complaints of child sexual abuse during the next 25 years,” Klein said. “The large medical institutions that employed Barto had the resources to investigate these complaints and act. They not only failed to do so, they also failed to property supervise Barto to protect the children that he mistreated and abused.”
“Many of our clients were not yet born when the first complaint was made against Dr. Barto,” Klein added. “The institutions that allowed his abuse to continue for two decades must now be held accountable.”
The complaint focuses on how Barto was allowed access to children for so long with so many red flags, said Andrew Dalton of Dalton & Associates.
“While we have put a great deal of facts into this (42-page) complaint, it is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The plaintiffs are asking the court for judgment for 12 counts that include childhood sexual abuse and vicarious liability, negligence in hiring and retention, negligent supervision, premises liability, negligent misrepresentation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, medical negligence, assault and battery, and civil conspiracy to endanger children.
Laurel Pediatric Associates had no comment on the lawsuit.
Emily Korns, marketing communications director for Conemaugh, said that Barto was not employed by Conemaugh Memorial. He was an independent physician, she said. Korns also pointed out in an email Wednesday that Barto was associated with Laurel Pediatric Associates, an independently owned practice.
“The actions of Dr. Barto, an independent physician not employed by DLP Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, are reprehensible,” she wrote. “That said, we dispute any allegations of wrongdoing on the part of DLP Conemaugh Memorial, which are outlined in the complaint.”
After the announcement at the courthouse, the group traveled to Harrisburg to voice support for legislation that would address Pennsylvania’s “antiquated,” as they called it, statute of limitations. Most of the survivors at the Cambria County Courthouse were older than 30, the cutoff age in the current statute of limitations for someone sexually abused as a child.