Modified: November 16, 2022

Who Is Responsible for Sexual Abuse? | Court Makes a Ruling

California Appeals Court Rules Hospitals Can be Responsible for Employees’ Sexual Abuse

Allegations of sexual misconduct are on the rise in many institutions designed to care for the most vulnerable members of society, particularly mental hospitals.

This is not the first incident of sexual misconduct involving patients in a psychiatric hospital to be brought before a district court of appeal, nor will it be the last.

Many male mental health workers have been held responsible for sexual abuse before, although it does not always involve elderly patients as is the case now.

Last Tuesday, Justice Arthur Gilbert of the state appeals court had to preside over a case in which abused hospital patients were awarded hefty damages for suffering sexual abuse by an employee of a psychiatric hospital.

How the Sexual Abuse Trial Unfolded

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Juan Valencia, a mental health worker at Aurora Vista del Mar, was accused and held responsible for sexual abuse at a Ventura psychiatric hospital by a district court jury.

Furthermore, the victims, who are 65, were two elderly patients who were abused while in the care of the psychiatric hospital. In a landmark ruling, the jury assigned a significant part of the blame to Aurora Vista del Mar, with the judge ruling that the Southern California hospital recklessly and maliciously neglected to provide proper care for the female patients who were abused.

This ruling was of great importance because it showed that psychiatric hospitals can be held responsible for sexual assaults in cases where the perpetrator is one of the employees. An award of $6.75 million was granted as noneconomic damages to the victims.

Both Aurora Vista del Mar and its parent company, Signature Healthcare Services were found to have been guilty on the following grounds:

  • The hospital’s initial background check was found to be poor
  • Reckless neglect of psychiatric patients in their care
  • Workplace conditions that exposed patients to sexual exploitation and abuse by employees
  • Disregarding the individual behavior of Valencia, who was a known sex offender, thus ignoring a foreseeable hazard arising
  • Covering up previous cases of sexual crime and abuse by employees
  • Not hiring a certified nursing assistant.

The defense team representing Aurora and Signature Healthcare took the ruling on the civil lawsuit with the appeals court arguing that:

  • There was no precedent that a hospital can be held fully responsible for acts of sexual abuse by a worker
  • Considering that noneconomic damages had a $250,000 limit in such cases, the jury’s damage award of $6.75 million was unfair.

However, Judge Arthur Gilbert ruled against the appeal and not only became the second district court to show that a hospital can be held accountable for its employees’ sexual crime but also upheld the jury’s entire damage award of $6.75 million to the victims of elder abuse.

Does This Affect Future Medical Malpractice Cases?

The ruling by the second district court, although mainly focusing on sexual abuse by employees, will also have a significant impact on the amount of financial compensation that can be awarded by California law in other circumstances, such as medical malpractice cases.

What Can Victims of Sexual Assault Do?

Have you or your loved one been the victim of abuse at a psychiatric hospital or other health care facility? You need to seek justice and damages for pain and suffering from those who are responsible.

Surviving victims should take the following steps:

  • Seek medical attention fast because not only is this necessary for your wellbeing, but a doctor’s report can contain crucial pieces of information that can be used as evidence of sexual assault
  • Gather as much evidence as you can, be it pictures of any injuries sustained, or witness reports from other patients or employees
  • Call a good lawyer to advise you and fight for your rights in court.

Ehline Law Is Here To Help

When patient care is abused at psychiatric hospitals, those responsible should be held accountable. However, as was shown in the case against Aurora and Valencia, these institutions sometimes do all they can to protect themselves and the offender.

In such cases, the experienced and dedicated personal injury attorneys at Ehline law are ready to fight to the end for the rights of the victims. Call us today at (833) LETS-SUE and we will help you walk away with the damages and compensation you deserve.


Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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