More than 100 women who claimed they were sexually abused by Stuart Copperman, a former pediatrician who owned and operated a Merrick practice, have long waited for answers. A poignant decision in a Mineola courtroom last Friday may set the tone for future proceedings.
On Aug. 25, a Nassau County Supreme Court judge awarded one of Copperman’s victims $5 million in punitive damages and $17 million in compensatory damages.
The plaintiff awarded the sum of money is just one of 104 women who brought a civil lawsuit against Copperman, made possible by the New York State Child Victims Act, (Page 7), signed into law by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February 2019.
Copperman lost his medical license in 2000, after six women testified to the state Board of Professional Medical Conduct that he had molested them while they were patients in the medical practice he ran out of the basement of his Hewlett Avenue home.
The lawsuit states that he abused his first victim in 1961, during his internship and residency, before he opened his practice in 1965.
The alleged victims estimate that over the course of 40 years, Copperman abused thousands of young girls from Merrick, Bellmore and the surrounding area. Copperman now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, in the private country club Boca West, and may also still own a home on Long Island.
According to court documents filed with the Nassau County clerk’s office on Jan. 6, Copperman did not submit any opposition papers in the case against him. The document reads, “Plaintiffs have submitted proof that the defaulting defendants were properly served. Defaulting defendants have failed to timely answer the complaint within the statutory period or otherwise appear and no request for an extension of time has been made.”
The Herald’s attempt to reach Copperman’s last known attorney was unsuccessful, and a case search of the New York Unified Court System website, NYCourts.gov, showed that Copperman was unrepresented.
The victims have been jointly represented by Philadelphia-based law firm, Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky, and the Ronkonkama-based firm Gruenberg Kelly Della, since 2021.
Because Copperman did not defend himself in the case, a legal inquest was deemed necessary in order for a judge to determine damages.
The first inquest hearing took place on Aug. 8 for the victim who was awarded $22 million last week. Documents from the hearing, filed with the county clerk’s office on Aug. 25 and shared with the Herald by Kristin Gibbons Feden, a partner at one of the firms, Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky, state that the plaintiff was a 41-year-old woman who was a patient of Copperman’s. For approximately 18 years, according to the documents, the plaintiff was subject to several acts of abuse.
An expert witness, a psychotherapist, was present at the hearing.
“Although (the) plaintiff felt confusion by such examinations and that something was ‘off,’ she never fully appreciated that Copperman’s actions constituted abuse until she was older and no longer Copperman’s patient,” one document reads. “The effect of the abuse was traumatic. As testified by (the) plaintiff’s expert, it resulted in a number of psychological disorders, including eating disorders, dissociative identity disorder and self injury.
“Copperman’s abuse has robbed the plaintiff of a normal, healthy and happy life,” the document continues. “The court finds that the psychological scars resulting from the abuse are permanent.”
Gibbons Feden told the Herald that each plaintiff will be heard individually in future hearings with the judge.
There are currently no set dates for future hearings.
“It’s a little undetermined as of now,” Gibbons Feden said. “We don’t have court orders — we have to file everything. I believe the judge is going to aim to hear it as soon and as expeditiously as possible.”
Speaking on the decision by the court to hear each victim individually, Gibbons Feden explained, “It’s not really a class or mass tort (lawsuit). It really was only consolidated for purposes of recovery, if you will. Each plaintiff technically has their own set of damages. So he is hearing it one on one.”
The plaintiffs can testify orally or through written documents, with affidavits — confirmed written statements — used as evidence in courts.
As part of the inquest, the legal teams had to prove that Copperman was properly notified of the hearing. He has the right to appeal the decision of the court, Gibbons Feden said.
Getting last week’s plaintiff — and, potentially, future plaintiffs — the money they are awarded could be challenging, and it is too early to tell how that process will work, but Gibbons Feden said that the courts would do what they could to see that the victims are monetarily compensated.
“These women, robbed of their innocence as children, have waited long enough,” Gibbons Feden said in a new release from the victims’ legal team on Tuesday. “Today, the court not only listens but acts, awarding this first survivor $17 million in compensatory damages and an unequivocal $5 million more in punitive damages, a firm strike against the predator that dared to prey upon these courageous women when they were innocent children.”
“Copperman was not a kind, compassionate pediatrician — the public image he nurtured,” Mike Della, a lawyer, said. “He was a monster doing barbaric things on his examination table to these children, irreparably destroying many lives.”