Dozens of former patients are preparing a lawsuit against an ex-Long Island pediatrician who was stripped of his medical license in 2000 following numerous complaints of sexual abuse.
Nearly two decades ago, Newsday chronicled the case of Stuart Copperman, a Merrick physician whose license was revoked after at least six women told a state hearing panel he had molested them as young girls. The complaints covered an 11-year period ending in 1989.
At the time, the women were barred by statute of limitations laws from filing lawsuits. But a new state law has changed that.
An attorney representing the women said Wednesday they are seeking to file the complaint using a special look-back period provided by New York’s Child Victims Act, which was enacted recently.
The law created a one-year window, which opened in August, suspending the normal time limits on lawsuits and allowing victims to file civil claims no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
“We do intend to file suit,” said Kristen Gibbons Feden, an attorney representing the women. She couldn’t say when the claim would be filed. “We’re still in the investigative stage,” she said.
The New York Times first reported the women’s intent to sue.
The women have launched a Facebook page, “Victims of Dr. Stuart Copperman,” where they say there are “50+ of us, which we believe to be the tip of the iceberg.”
On the page, the group says: “Sexually molested as children, we call for justice.”
An attorney for the former physician didn’t immediately return messages for comment Wednesday. Contacted by the Times, Copperman said he did “not care to revisit” old allegations.
The opportunity to pursue decades-old allegations of sexual abuse came about because of the 2018 statewide elections.
A new Democratic majority in the state Senate spurred enactment of the Child Victims Act as one of its first actions after taking power in January. The measure was opposed by the Catholic Church and bottled up by a Republican-led Senate for years.
The Democrat-led Assembly and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, also backed the legislation.
On Aug. 14, the day the one-year look-back period opened, 427 lawsuits were filed across New York, according to the state Office of Court Administration. As of Wednesday, the total had grown to 858, including 48 in Nassau County and 20 in Suffolk.
Many of the high-profile lawsuits target institutions and large entities, such as Catholic dioceses or the Boy Scouts. Lawsuits against individuals will be rarer, critics have said, because there is less financial incentive to bring a case to court.
The allegations against Copperman span decades.
In December 2000, the New York Office of Professional Medical Conduct revoked Copperman's license after receiving testimony from six women. They said the doctor abused them during physical exams when they were between the ages of 14 and 20, although they all had been his patients since childhood.
Newsday reported at the time the panel cited “the egregiousness” of Copperman’s conduct and "his continued denial of any inappropriate behavior.”
Similar charges against him had been dismissed in 1987 by the state Board of Regents, which oversaw medical conduct issues at the time. Later, oversight was transferred to the state Health Department.
Copperman denied any wrongdoing during the medical board proceedings, fought unsuccessfully to retain his license and later moved to Florida. He had operated his practice in his Merrick basement for four decades before losing his license.
The state panel’s action sparked an even greater wave of complaints to the Health Department about the doctor, along with a 2004 episode of NBC's Dateline.
Before the Child Victims Act, New York’s statute of limitations required civil claims or criminal charges to be filed by the victim’s 23rd birthday.
Beyond the one-year period, the new law extends the deadline for filing a civil claim to a person’s 55th birthday.
In a post, members of the Facebook group said they had come together after a wave of stories about Dr. Larry Nassar, the former athletic physician at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. In January 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after hundreds of women accused him of sexually abusing them under the guise of treatment.
“After the recent criminal prosecution of Dr. Nassar which reopened a lot of old wounds, dozens of us independently took to social media to see if anything had ever been done about Dr. Copperman,” the Facebook post reads. “We survived something so similar that it hurt.”