A psychiatrist taking notes while talking to a patient.

Are Sexual Assaults At Psychiatric Hospitals Rising?

On Behalf of Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire LLP
Jun 3, 2022

Hospital workers sexually exploiting patients is a foreseeable hazard in California. A Second District Court of Appeal saw a psychiatric hospital’s policies increase the chances of sexual abuse by hospital workers. In 2013, an employee at a psychiatric hospital was sexually abusing two women suffering from psychosis.

Failure of the Policies

The employee had been a mental health worker for the hospital since 2011. The form during the hiring process asked about any crimes requiring registration as a sex offender, but the employee said no. In 1989, the employee had two sex-related offenses, and one required him to register as a sex offender. An investigative consumer reporting agency did a background check on the employee for the hospital. Under the law, the agency can’t disclose any crimes from over seven years prior. The violation of the two women was under elder abuse/nursing home abuse laws.

The Court Case

The plaintiffs filed an action against the hospital and the management company. The two women alleged professional negligence and a violation of the elder abuse act. The jury found the defendants liable for noneconomic damages of $3.75 million to the first plaintiff and $3 million to the second. The hospital and the employee each were 35% at fault. The managing company was 30% at fault. Each plaintiff received punitive damages of $50,000. The trial court found that the plaintiffs’ evidence didn’t support the outcome in their favor. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial’s decision.

The appellate court said the plaintiffs had enough evidence to prove the hospital was aware of the employee’s actions but didn’t investigate. The employee was a danger to female patients, and there was no safeguard to keep the patients safe. The hospital’s policies increased the risk of elder abuse. Unlicensed mental health workers have seven-year limits on background checks. The hospital allowed male workers to be alone with female patients for up to 20 minutes. The employee’s training was a few quick conversations and two days of shadowing.