LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A registered nurse who took a photo of a patient who stuck pencils in her eyes in a suicide attempt says she did so as a “teaching tool,” but denies it was her image of the self-mutilated young woman that turned up on the Internet three years later.
Kristin Ciasulli also said in a sworn declaration and in deposition testimony that up to a half-dozen other medical workers took similar images of the plaintiff when the injured La Canada Flintridge resident was brought into the County-USC Medical Center emergency room in June 2011.
Ciasulli said she deleted the photo she took with her cell phone within 24 hours.
“It’s a very disturbing thing to look at,” she said. “And this girl, she resonated with me in a way that no other patient really has and it rattled and unnerved me. And I knew I didn’t need to have that photograph.”
Asked during a July deposition why she took the photo, Ciasulli answered, “I thought it was something that I might be able to use as a teaching tool.”
Ciasulli worked for HRN Services Inc., which supplies hospitals with temporary and supplemental healthcare employees, according to attorneys for the plaintiff, who is identified as Jane Doe.
The lawsuit filed last Oct. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court names Los Angeles County, County-USC Medical Center, HRN Services, nurses Ciasulli and Shannon Lipham, and Joshua Shivers, who posted the photo.
The complaint alleges intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, public disclosure of private facts, breach of duty and confidentiality and unauthorized disclosure of medical information.
According to the complaint, the woman, now 24, was admitted to the county-run hospital after trying to kill herself by thrusting pencils into her eyes. She survived, but was blinded.
Lipham was a relief pool nurse employed by the county who also was assigned to care for the plaintiff, according to Doe’s attorneys’ court papers, which say Lipham acknowledged in a June deposition that she sent the photograph to her niece, who in turn gave it to Shivers.
Shivers uploaded the image in July 2014 onto “one of the most visited shock websites in the world,” the suit says. The same day, he took credit for his actions on a social networking site, saying, “I finally made it in life. Please check out my shiz,” and included a link to the photo, the suit states.
A week later, he placed the same photo onto a “popular entertainment and social media website,”according to the plaintiff’s attorneys, who say it has received more than 192,000 Internet views.
Ciasulli, who now works for Accountable Healthcare Staffing, said she did not send a copy of the photo she took to Lipham.
“I don’t know how she got the photograph,” Ciasulli said.
Ciasulli said the photo allegedly posted by Shivers is “markedly different” from the one she took. She said the posted photo was a close-up, while hers was taken from six or seven feet away.
“I never sent the photo to any person,” Ciasulli said. “I also never showed the photo to anyone and never shared the photo with anyone or told anyone I took the photo until this lawsuit.”
Ciasulli said there were numerous people in the hospital emergency room when the plaintiff was brought there, including nurses, physicians and medical technicians.
“While the 10 to 15 individuals were in Jane Doe’s ER room, I personally witnessed five or six of those individuals take photographs of Jane Doe with their cell phones,” Ciasulli said. “These photographs were taken almost immediately after Jane Doe’s bandages were removed from her eyes.”
Heather Laird, one of Doe’s attorneys, said she and her fellow lawyers are still trying to establish how Lipham obtained the photo, as well as whether Ciasulli was truthful when she said other nurses also took images of the patient.
Asked in her deposition if she obtained the photo from Ciasulli, Lipham replied, “It’s possible. I don’t know for sure.”
Lipham said the photo was sent to her on her phone, but that she does not have the device any longer.
“I exchange my phone every year and a half to two years,” Lipham testified.
In his deposition, Shivers testified he did not know how the photo he posted was taken, but said it was given to him by Alexis Brennecke Siwek, the niece of a nurse at the hospital.
“I only know that it was relayed to me,” Shivers testified. “I didn’t even know if it was all true or not even at that point, but I guess it was real, you know. It’s pretty intense.”
Brenneck Siwek confirmed in her deposition that Lipham was her aunt and that Lipham gave her the photo that she, in turn, provided to Shivers.
The declaration and deposition excerpts were filed in connection with motions by attorneys for Ciasulli to dismiss the part of the case against their client.
Lawyers for Los Angeles County have filed a similar motion asking that the county also be dismissed as a defendant, arguing that Ciasulli was an independent contractor and not an employee of the hospital. They also state in their court papers that despite Ciasulli’s “self-serving justifications” for taking the photo as an instructional aid, she was not responsible for teaching nurses at the facility.
Judge Elizabeth Allen White is scheduled to hear the dismissal motions on Dec. 3.