North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Verdict for Nursing Home and its Employee in Case Alleging Sexual Abuse of a Resident

Nursing home abuse can take many forms including physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Regardless of how it happens, it is one of the most devastating and painful situations for the victim and his or her family. At Maurer Law, our seasoned team of Asheville nursing home abuse lawyers are standing by to assist your family with understanding its legal rights during this time. Although the local authorities may investigate the situation for criminal wrongdoing, the victim and/or his or her loved ones can bring a civil claim to recover compensation from the nursing home facility.

Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered a case in which an elderly resident at a nursing home facility with dementia alleged that one of the workers had exposed himself to her and engaged in inappropriate touching. The complaint alleged that a certified nursing assistant had assisted the resident back to her room after lunch and engaged in the sexual assault at that time. According to the nursing assistant, however, the aide had escorted the resident back to her room and spent one minute sitting next to the resident for the purpose of calming her down. The resident reported the incident to her personal aide, who arrived at the room soon after the nursing assistant left.

The facility submitted the required 24-hour initial report to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Health Care Personal Registry and completed an investigation. It concluded that it was unable to substantiate the allegations due to the absence of any witnesses and the resident’s clinical diagnosis of dementia. A physician also determined that the resident lacked mental capacity. The nursing assistant was allowed to return to work and was assigned to a different hall. Other government agencies also investigated the claim and found it to be unsubstantiated.

The resident’s daughter filed a civil claim alleging claims for assault and battery against the nursing assistant. It also alleged claims against the facility for vicarious liability as well as negligent supervision and retention of the nursing assistant. The nursing assistant filed a motion to dismiss and the facility filed a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff also moved for summary judgment. The court granted the facility’s motion but denied the nursing assistant’s and plaintiff’s motions. The matter proceeded to trial where a jury concluded unanimously that the nursing assistant did not commit battery. The plaintiff appealed.

On review, the plaintiff alleged that the court erred in granting the facility’s motion, erred in allowing expert opinion testimony about the mental capacity of the resident, and erred by excluding evidence about a prior assault allegation that was offered for the purpose of demonstrating that the nursing assistant had a propensity to commit these acts. The appellate court rejected all of these arguments and upheld the lower court’s decisions. The facility’s motion was properly granted because the facts did not show that the facility ratified any sexual misconduct as the plaintiff’s complaint alleged. Rather, the facility engaged in a prompt investigation and suspended the nursing assistant. It also concluded that the lower court made appropriate decisions regarding allowing the evidence about the resident’s mental state while excluding evidence about prior allegations because the probative value was outweighed by the potential prejudice to the nursing aide.

If you were injured as a nursing home resident or if your family member is a nursing home resident who has experienced abuse, we are standing by to assist you. We understand that no amount of compensation can truly make your family whole again after this event, but it can help you cope with the stress and expenses involved. To schedule a free consultation, contact our Asheville nursing home abuse lawyers today at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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