Some of the most vulnerable people in our society are residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They may suffer from physical or mental conditions that make them especially susceptible to abuse by a caregiver or another resident. One of the most severe forms of abuse is sexual abuse, which can result in not only criminal charges but also civil liability. If you are concerned that a loved one may be suffering from sexual abuse, you should remove them from the facility immediately and consult an attorney who is familiar with the law of your state to determine whether you have a claim.
Common Forms of Sexual Abuse
In addition to rape and other forms of sexual assault, sexual abuse or molestation in the nursing home environment may involve forcing residents to undress in front of staff or forcing them to watch other people engaging in sexual activities. In other cases, nursing home staff may show pornography to residents or demand that they touch staff in a sexual way. Tragically, a nursing home resident may feel isolated and unable to resist these demands because of the staff member’s position of authority.
Nursing home staff also may be liable for sexual abuse by other residents or by visitors to the nursing home if they fail to properly supervise interactions between residents and conduct by visitors. Certain staff members may have a duty to report abuse or suspected abuse to the authorities, and they can be held accountable for violating this duty.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
If your loved one is being abused or threatened with abuse, they may feel uncomfortable about telling you directly. These situations are deeply embarrassing, especially for an elderly person who may be in poor health. You should take note of signs of abuse that emerge from your loved one’s physical condition or behavior. If they start acting anxious or afraid around certain staff members, this may bear closer attention. If you notice bruises, scars, or torn clothing, you may want to investigate the possibility of abuse. Another type of red flag is when a resident contracts a sexually transmitted infection. None of these signs by itself necessarily means that abuse is occurring, but you should follow up rather than taking chances.
Liability for Sexual Abuse
A nursing home in which staff members are committing or condoning sexual abuse may be prosecuted for related crimes. However, criminal convictions usually result in fines paid to the government and possibly prison sentences. To get compensation, you probably will need to file a civil personal injury claim. You would try to prove that sexual abuse occurred and that your loved one was harmed as a result. In some cases, a resident who has suffered from sexual abuse may have suffered from other forms of physical or emotional abuse or neglect as well. These can provide additional grounds for liability and damages.
You may be able to establish the liability of not only an individual staff member who was responsible for the abuse but also the facility. Nursing homes have an obligation to train and supervise their employees to prevent this type of egregious conduct. They also need to conduct background checks during the hiring process to avoid hiring sex offenders or other people with a serious criminal background. Even if a nursing home was not directly at fault for the abuse, moreover, it may be indirectly liable if it had an employment relationship with the perpetrator.
Damages for Sexual Abuse
Some of the damages that a victim and their family can likely seek in these cases include compensation for medical expenses, psychological therapy, and the costs of future treatment. You also may be able to get compensation for your loved one’s pain and suffering and emotional distress, which can be substantial in these cases.
In some states, depending on the specific law, you may be able to get punitive damages as well. These are usually available when the defendant engaged in egregious or intentional misconduct. Sexual abuse often fits this definition. An award of punitive damages goes above and beyond an award of compensatory damages in order to punish a staff member or facility. The amount is not tied to the amount of compensatory damages, although some constitutional limits may apply.