Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(3)12 Sep 95


Quick Summary: An employer’s knowledge of an employee’s dangerous propensities is relevant to the employer’s legal duty of care, and to assessing the scope of potential harm that could result from a breach of the legal duty of care, although a health care employer is not required to conduct routine background checks of employees’ psychiatric histories.

   The hospital learned of the employee’s psychiatric history and his attraction to young males when the employee consulted a counselor in the hospital’s in-house employee assistance program.

   If the counselor determined there was a threat to young male patients from this employee’s dangerous propensities, there was an ethical duty to disclose that information, and for the hospital to act upon it, by imposing adequate supervision to prevent harm to young male patients.

   That the harm to this patient occurred after discharge and after the employee was terminated did not absolve the hospital. Sexual predators are known to "groom" their victims before abusing them. COURT OF APPEALS OF IDAHO, 1995.

   A case was filed in court in Idaho against a hospital over sexual abuse perpetrated on a young male former patient by an adult male respiratory therapist who met the youth during his stay as an automobile accident victim. The man gave the boy, then thirteen years of age, his phone number as he was being discharged and asked the boy to call him. About a month after his release, the boy contacted the hospital employee and began seeing him. With his parents’ permission, the boy visited with the employee regularly and the boy often spent the night at the employee’s residence. The hospital employee took the boy on numerous camping trips and in general appeared to befriend the boy, according to the court record in the case.

   The hospital employee was terminated for misconduct involving young male employees of the hospital, under the age of twenty-one, whom he allegedly invited to his home and promised to provide alcohol.

   After his termination from the hospital, he began to sexually abuse the boy in question. The abuse continued for more than three years, until the boy’s father reported him to the police, which resulted in the former hospital employee being convicted of the criminal offense of lewd conduct with a minor and incarceration in an Idaho state correctional facility.

   Suit was then brought against the hospital. The suit alleged that the hospital was negligent in its hiring, supervision and retention of the employee in question, and that the hospital’s negligence in this regard had caused the boy to be sexually abused.

   There was testimony of psychiatric expert witnesses who described the "protracted grooming process" that sexual predators use with their victims. Thus, harm could be expected long after first contact with a potential victim. "John Doe" vs. Sisters of the Holy Cross, 895 P. 2d 1229 (Idaho App., 1995).

Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession Home Page