A jury recently awarded $7.5 million to the family of an elderly woman who was sexually assaulted while a resident at a nursing home in Pennsylvania.
According to records from the Pennsylvania Superior Court, plaintiffs (decedent’s daughters and co-administrators of her estate) sued the nursing home where she resided prior to her death, alleging one of the other residents at the center sexually assaulted her during her residency. They accused the nursing home and her alleged abuser for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and premises liability.
As it turned out, the fellow patient was a registered sex offender before he was accepted into the facility and the abuse began. He was later arrested and pleaded guilty to sexual assault and was sentenced to 8-to-20-years incarceration. Decedent passed away 10 months after the alleged assault from causes unrelated. Plaintiffs alleged defendant facility was aware of the threat posed by the resident and failed to properly supervise him or protect the patient.
The Legal Intelligencer reports the trial lasted two weeks, followed by four hours of deliberation, after which jurors concluded the facility and its parent company were 85 percent liable for the sexual assault of the 82-year-old victim. Jurors additionally determined the nursing home had displayed reckless indifference in its failure to protect the patient and prevent the assault. The case set to proceed to a bifurcated proceeding to specifically resolve the issues of punitive damages stemming from that last finding, but both sides ultimately agreed to settle the case for $6.75 million.
In addition to the sexual assault decedent suffered, plaintiffs alleged the facility and its parent company failed to prevent more than 20 falls decedent suffered during the course of her residency there.
Aside from the multi-million dollar verdict, this nursing home abuse case is noteworthy for the fact that it broke some legal ground in its home state with an issue of first impression involving a question of whether the Older Adults Protective Services Act prevents individuals who report abuse of the elderly from testifying in subsequent civil litigation. The superior court ultimately rejected the argument made by the nursing home that testimony of its employee was privileged under the law, instead granting plaintiffs the green light to depose (albeit under seal) an employee of the nursing home who first reported the abuse to the county’s Office of Aging. The state supreme court denied a request to review the issue on appeal, leaving the superior court’s decision intact.
Plaintiffs say their mother was suffering from increasingly deteriorating mental and physical health due to dementia when defendant resident – 20 years younger than her – sexually assaulted her. Defendant, who had cerebral palsy, reportedly targeted decedent because of her dementia and the nursing home was aware he was a registered sex offender previously convicted of rape. He had reportedly threatened to rape one of the caregivers at the facility and several staffers had raised concerns about defendant’s sexually aggressive behavior toward her prior to the assault. Some in the staff indicated the pair were in a relationship, but some had expressed concerns about the woman’s ability to consent, given her mental capacity.
An internal memo indicated the nursing home failed to follow its own policies when the two were allowed unsupervised in a room together.
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Lancaster Jury Awards $7.5M to Nursing Home Sex Assault Victim, May 8, 2018, By Max Mitchell, The Legal Intelligencer
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Report: Florida Nursing Home Chain Endures Despite History of Poor Care, June 14, 2018, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog