When Can a Maryland Nursing Home Be Held Responsible for an Employee’s Abusive Conduct?

Although it may be difficult to comprehend, nursing home abuse is more common than most people think. In fact, thousands of nursing home residents report abuse or neglect each year. Many of these victims turn to the court system for justice. As experienced Maryland nursing home abuse attorneys, one of the most common questions we receive is, under what circumstances can a nursing home be held liable for an employee’s conduct?

A recent decision issued by a Virginia appellate court considers this exact question. According to the court’s opinion, a nursing assistant molested and raped an 85-year old nursing home resident. Before the case reached trial, the woman died from unrelated causes. However, the woman’s estate pursued a Virginia nursing home abuse case against the facility where the rape occurred.

The estate made several claims against the nursing home, including one that the nursing home was vicariously liable for the employee’s actions. Vicarious liability is a legal theory that allows for one party to be held responsible for another party’s actions. Personal injury plaintiffs often use the theory of vicarious liability to hold an at-fault party’s employer liable for their injuries. However, vicarious liability only applies when the defendant is acting within the scope of their employment.

The estate presented no evidence that the nursing home employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time he raped the resident. Instead, the estate suggested that it was sufficient to plead the man “was an employee and in the course and scope of his employment. And then the burden is shifted for the defense to convince a jury why he was not in the course and scope.” The trial court agreed with the estate, and denied the nursing home’s motion to dismiss the case, holding that a jury should determine whether the employee was acting within the scope of his employment.

Before trial, the estate then moved to prohibit the nursing home from presenting any evidence suggesting the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment. The plaintiff argued that any such evidence would contradict the court’s prior ruling. The court agreed. The nursing home appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling on the defendant’s motion to dismiss, but held that it would be unfair to preclude the defendant from presenting the jury with any evidence that the employee was acting outside the scope of his employment. The court reversed the case, and remanded it to the lower court for further hearings.

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and believe that they are experiencing abuse or neglect, contact the dedicated personal injury advocates at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we represent nursing home residents and their families in claims against abusive and negligent staff and management. We also offer free consultations to all prospective clients in which we can explain the recovery process and how we can help. To learn more, call 800-654-1949 to schedule a free consultation today.

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