Nursing home blamed
after worker attacked resident
$12,500,000.00 VERDICT (P)
Plaintiff's Security & Premises Liability Expert
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
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
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
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.
$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.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs'
counsel and defense counsel.
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