The guardian of an Oregon woman, now deceased, who was the victim of sexual assault in a nursing home has filed suit against the nursing home and its incarcerated former employee. The lawsuit claims elder abuse based on the sexual assault, a civil claim allowed under Oregon law, and seeks $1.5 million in damages.
The victim, whose name has not been disclosed by the news media, was a resident of Valley West Health Care Center in Eugene, Oregon. She had suffered several strokes and was unable to speak. She had resided at Valley West for about one year when, on December 22, 2010, an employee reportedly walked into the 56 year-old woman’s room and saw another employee, 61 year-old Robert Price, touching the woman’s genital area. The employee reported the matter to Valley West management, who reportedly contacted police.
Prosecutors charged Price with first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree attempted sexual abuse, both felonies. They contended that the victim was unable to consent due to mental defect, mental incapacitation, and physical helplessness. Price pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse, but later entered a guilty plea on the attempted sexual abuse charge, which carries a lesser mandatory prison sentence. State law defines “attempted” sexual abuse as an act that involves a “substantial step towards completing” actual sexual abuse. Price was sentenced to forty-five months in prison on February 4, 2011, and he remains incarcerated to this day.
The victim reportedly died in December 2011. Her court-appointed guardian and representative, Gerald Rainey, filed suit against Price and Valley West for elder abuse in late December 2012. The suit alleges civil liability for the Price’s alleged criminal actions and demands damages of $1.5 million.
Oregon law allows the guardian of a “vulnerable person” to file a civil suit for damages resulting from various criminal acts, including the offense of sexual abuse. News reports do not indicate whether this statute forms the basis of Rainey’s lawsuit. It allows a clear method for certain crime victims to claim damages, but it caps damages for many claims at $500.
The statute allows civil claims by victims of physical abuse that meets the definition of certain criminal offenses under Oregon law, including first-degree sexual abuse. Since Price only pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse, the civil case may require proof by a preponderance of evidence of the allegedly criminal nature of Price’s conduct. The statute exempts certain health care facilities from liability, including long-term care facilities, but not all residential treatment facilities. It is not clear if Valley West falls under an exemption.
Civil lawsuits against nursing homes and their employees in Maryland, and presumably in Oregon, may rely on more traditional intentional tort theories like assault and battery, or on negligence theories like premises liability. Nursing homes may be liable for the negligent or intentional acts of their employees, if the employees were acting in the course of their employment. They may be liable for illegal acts of employees on a negligence theory, such as negligent hiring or failure to secure the premises.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in Maryland obtain compensation for injuries caused by nursing home abuse or neglect. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.
More Blog Posts:
Nursing Home Employee Charged with Abuse of Patient, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2013
Nursing Home Maintenance Worker Fired, Arrested for Alleged Sexual Abuse of Resident, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, January 22, 2013
Hidden Cameras Have Helped Prevent Nursing Home Abuse, But May Not Be Solution, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, December 28, 2012
Photo credit: By Bigcheesebebbs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.