Nursing home blamed
after worker attacked resident

$12,500,000.00 VERDICT (P)

Plaintiff's Security & Premises Liability Expert

Read more about Mike Panish's Premises Security Cases

Case Type: Elder Law - California Elder Abuse Act, Intentional Torts - Assault and Battery, Intentional Torts - Sexual Battery, Intentional Torts - Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence - Negligent Hiring, Negligence - Negligence Per Se

Case Name: Sophie Schwartz, by and through her guardian ad litem, Dr. Ronald Schwartz v. Oakdale Heights Management Corporation, Oakdale Heights of Newhall, Oakdale Heights of Santa Clarita, Northstar Senior Living, Inc., Newhall Senior Housing, LLC, Newhall Capital Resources, LLC, Arei Newhall 21, LLC, Arei Newhall 31, LLC, Capital Resources Fund, LLC, Pacifica Companies, Pacifica Senior Living at Santa Clarita, West Lyons, LP, Murielle DeJesus, Jose Eduardo Vazquez and Does 1 through 50, inclusive, No. PC044618

Venue: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Chatsworth, CA
Judge: Melvin d. Sandvig
Date: 03-01-2010

Plaintiff's Attorney(s): Susan A. Owen; Owen, Patterson & Owen; Valencia, CA, for Sophie Schwartz; Gregory J. Owen; Owen, Patterson & Owen; Valencia, CA, for Sophie Schwartz

Plaintiff's Expert(s): Michael Panish; Security/Premises Liability;

called by: Gregory Owen and Susan Owen

Mary Stroube; Convalescent Care/Elder Care; Oakland, CA called by: Gregory Owen, Susan Owen Janel Lopez LVN; Standard of Care; Pleasanton, CA called by: Gregory Owen, Susan Owen William Rubinson M.D.; Medical Care; Van Nuys, CA called by: Gregory Owen, Susan Owen

Defendant's Attorney(s):

Sean D. Cowdrey; Beach, Whitman & Cowdrey, LLP; Oxnard, CA, for Oakdale Heights Management Corporation, Newhall Senior Housing, LLC, Northstar Senior Living, Inc., Murielle DeJesus, Lloyd's of London, Intervenor

Defendant's Expert(s)

Marcia Haight; Human Resources Policies; Pacific Palisades, CA called by: Randall Romero, Sean Cowdrey Bruce Woodling M.D.; Standard of Care; Ventura, CA called by: Randall Romero, Sean Cowdrey

Insurers: Lloyd's of London for OHMC, Newhall Senior Housing, LLC and DeJesus

Facts: On Dec. 16, 2007, plaintiff Sophie Schwartz, 92, who suffers from dementia, was asleep in her bed at Oakdale Heights of Santa Clarita, a residential care facility for the elderly, when she was awakened by Jose Eduard Vazquez being on top of her. Despite Schwartz's struggles, Vazquez continued to attempt to rape her until he was caught by a caregiver who came to Schwartz's room to return something that belonged to her.

At the time of the incident, the facility was operated and managed by Oakdale Heights Management Corporation (OHMC). Newhall Senior Housing LLC owned the facility and contracted with OHMC to manage it. The administrator was Murielle DeJesus. After the incident and due to criminal investigations concerning OHMC's sole shareholder, OHMC stopped operating, according to defense counsel. Two of the senior officers left OHMC and formed a new company, Northstar Senior Living Inc.

Vazquez was an assistant cook at the facility. He pleaded guilty to attempted rape and was sentenced to eight years and four months in state prison. He also is now a registered sex offender.

Schwartz, by and through her guardian ad litem, sued OHMC, Oakdale Heights of Newhall, Oakdale Heights of Santa Clarita, Northstar Senior Living, Newhall Senior Housing LLC, Newhall Capital Resources LLC, Arei Newhall 21 LLC, Arei Newhall 31 LLC, Capital Resources Fund LLC, Pacifica Companies, Pacifica Senior Living at Santa Clarita, West Lyons LP, DeJesus and Vazquez for elder abuse, negligence and negligence per se. Schwartz also sued Vazquez for assault, battery, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

West Lyons, Arei Newhall 21 and 31, and Capital Resources Fund were on the title to the real property where the facility operated but were dismissed before trial. Pacifica Companies and Pacifica Senior Living at Santa Clara were the subsequent operators of the facility and were unrelated to the facility at the time of the incident so they were dismissed prior to trial. The case went to trial against OHMC, Newhall Senior Housing, Northstar Senior Housing, DeJesus and Vazquez and Lloyd's of London (as the intervenor). Vazquez did not appear at trial.

Plaintiff's counsel claimed that Vazquez attacked Schwartz after consuming liquor on the job and was able to enter her room with the master key that provided all employees of the facility access to every resident's room. This unfettered access was provided despite the fact that the manager who conducted Vazquez's interview knew that Vazquez provided false credentials to get his job, counsel contended. Even after the attack was reported, Vazquez stayed at the facility on the same floor as Schwartz for half an hour, plaintiff's counsel claimed. No one confronted him, attempted to detain him or did anything to protect the other residents, counsel argued. Counsel claimed that after Vazquez's arrest, law enforcement was provided with his employment file, which was missing critical documentation required under provisions of the law that governs the operation of residential care facilities for the elderly.

Defense counsel argued that the incident did not correlate to hiring practices, understaffing or lack of supervision at the facility. Counsel contended that the defendants did everything right in the hiring process and that they had no idea Vazquez was an unfit employee to work at the facility.

Defense counsel argued that Vazquez was a model employee throughout his 18-month employment. No one at the facility was aware that he was an undocumented worker or that he presented fraudulent identification during his hiring process. He underwent a criminal background check and no criminal history was identified. There was no evidence that Vazquez had ever engaged in previous criminal activity, violent or otherwise. Counsel contended that Vazquez was 100 percent liable for the incident.

Injury: Schwartz sought general and punitive damages. She did not require medical care following the incident.

Defense counsel stated that the post-incident sexual assault examination concluded with a finding of no physical evidence of any physical trauma to Schwartz. Vazquez testified that he fondled Schwartz's breast but did not engage in intercourse. Defense counsel further argued that due to her dementia, Schwartz had no memory of the incident and demonstrated no emotional trauma and thus her damages were minimal.

Defense counsel stated that plaintiff's counsel was seeking damages for past and future non-economic damages for pain and suffering and asked the jury to award $18 million. Plaintiff's counsel also sought punitive damages in the amount of $200 million, according to defense counsel.

Verdict Information: The jury found for Schwartz and awarded her $12.5 million in damages. The jury apportioned fault for the compensatory damages by assigning 25 percent to OHMC, 2 percent to Newhall Senior Living, 23 percent to DeJesus and 50 percent to Vazquez. OHMC is responsible for $5 million in punitive damages and Vazquez is responsible for $1.5 million in punitive damages.

Sophie Schwartz

$6,500,000 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages
$2,000,000 Personal Injury: past non-economic
$4,000,000 Personal Injury: future non-economic

Post Trial: The plaintiff was awarded attorney fees and costs. Defense motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial were denied. Defense counsel filed an appeal.

Editor's Comments:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' counsel and defense counsel.
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