VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A state appeals court Tuesday said a Southern California hospital can be held responsible for sexual abuse by an employee and upheld a jury’s $6.75 million in damages for two elderly patients who were abused in a psychiatric hospital.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that awards for pain and suffering to victims age 65 or older are not subject to California’s $250,000 limit in medical malpractice cases.
The case involved a civil suit against Aurora Vista del Mar, a mental health facility in Ventura, and one of its mental health workers.
The court said the worker was hired despite a history of sexual misconduct and had sex with both women when he was left alone with them in their rooms, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Although the jury put 35% of the blame on the staff member and the rest on the hospital and its owner. The court said an employer can be held fully responsible if workplace conditions or neglect are a cause of sexual abuse.
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Psychiatric patients are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and the evidence showed that Aurora Vista del Mar and its owner, Signature Healthcare Services, “operated the hospital recklessly and maliciously to make what happened almost inevitable,” Judge Arthur said Gilbert in the 3-0 decision.
Messages left asking for comment from officials at Signature Healthcare and Aurora Vista del Mar were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Although employers can be held responsible for harm caused by their employees, the Chronicle says, they have generally not been required to pay damages for sexual abuse, which courts have classified as individual conduct. But the court said a stricter standard may apply to hospitals, particularly psychiatric hospitals.
The court ordered a retrial to determine whether the hospital should pay all damages, the newspaper reported.
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