By BETH HEMPHILL
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Court TV) —After more than five weeks and 65 witnesses, Dr. Sally Smith took the stand to testify – this time for the defense – in the civil trial of a family fighting a hospital for actions which, they say, led to the false imprisonment of a 10-year-old, and eventually her mother’s death by suicide.
Jack Kowalski, on behalf of his children Kyle and Maya Kowalski, and the estate of his late wife Beata Kowalski, filed the lawsuit against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Medical Center in St. Petersberg, which treated his daughter beginning in 2015. Kowalski said the hospital’s treatment and accusations of medical child abuse against Beata led her to take her own life in Jan. 2017.
Dr. Smith, who the Kowalski’s initially believed was a physician, was the medical director of the child protection team in Pinellas County, which provides medical evaluations for the JHACH when there are suspicions of medical child abuse. She testified that became involved in Maya’s case when Maya was admitted to Johns Hopkins in October 2016, and she was contacted by JHACH Dr. Sanchez to give her medical opinion on whether Maya was suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy, now known as Factitious Disorder by Proxy.
WATCH: Who is Dr. Sally Smith?
In a taped deposition played for jurors during the plaintiff’s case, Dr. Sally Smith explained that it was her job as the child abuse pediatrician to look through every piece of objective evidence to assess whether she believed there was medical child abuse.
Dr. Smith testified that while she was not employed by JHACH, when she was first introduced to the family, she introduced herself as “Dr. Sally Smith, a pediatrician with the child protection team.”
Both Maya and Jack Kowalski testified about their initial meeting with Dr. Smith, a woman Jack described as having black hair and a “cigarette voice.” Maya described the “awkward” meeting of Dr. Smith, saying she entered her room wearing a white lab coat and began asking her father questions while Maya was naked from the bottom down, having just used the bathroom.
On the stand Thursday, Dr. Smith testified that in 20 years, she has never worn a lab coat. And on that day, October 13, 2016, she said she was wearing street clothes and her badge.
Dr. Smith also testified that while she was involved with the team who treated Maya medically, she had no involvement with Maya’s direct treatment or medications.
Dr. Smith said after reviewing all of the extensive medical records, all of the observations of the child in the hospital, and the “unconventional treatments,” including hyperbaric oxygen and repeated high-dose ketamine treatment, that she said provided “ample evidence” to support a diagnosis of medical child abuse. She also noted that Beata Kowalski was perpetrating the abuse, in her professional opinion.
One of the issues raised during Dr. Smith’s taped deposition was a suggestion that Dr. Smith said she made to the hospital staff about the benefit of using “covert video surveillance” to document the amount of movement Maya was able to do when she was alone in her room.
Dr. Smith defended her actions, saying, “there were numerous instances during the video, which were comparable to numerous observations of the physical therapist, the nurses, the child life staff, the music therapy staff, etc. of the child moving around in bed, putting her feet in normal, neutral position, using her upper body, her lower body in various movements, that provided concrete evidence in support of all of the observations that were made by hospital staff.”
The lawsuit was initially filed against the hospital for the negligent hiring, retention, supervision and ratification of multiple people, including Dr. Sally Smith and social worker Cathi Bedy, along with all other JHACH doctors and health care providers involved in Maya’s treatment. The charges include, but are not limited to, false imprisonment, negligence, battery, and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress against the family.
The amended complaint removed Smith after the organization she worked for, Suncoast Advocacy, settled with the Kowalski’s in January 2022 for $2.5 million, according to court documents.
Cathi Bedy’s name, however, remains on several charges filed in the lawsuit pertaining to her treatment of Maya and the family while she was kept in state custody at the hospital. Bedy is expected to testify in person for the defense on Monday, Oct. 30. Court TV will provide live coverage of the trial on CourtTV.com.