Florida nursing homes and medical providers can be held accountable for the negligent or criminal conduct of their employees amounting to elder abuse. And, if successful, substantial compensation may be awarded to abused patients and their families. An alarming number of nursing home residents are victims of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, as well as neglect. In a recently released opinion by a state appellate court, a substantial jury verdict in favor of the estate of a sexually abused woman was addressed on appeal, and ultimately overturned.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case was the estate of an elderly woman who was molested and raped by an employee of the defendant nursing home while under the home’s care. The plaintiff sued both the employee who committed the criminal acts, as well as the nursing home where the abuse occurred. At trial, the jury found that the nursing home was vicariously liable for the conduct of the employee, and the plaintiff was awarded a significant sum in damages, and the nursing home appealed.
The primary issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in finding, as a matter of law, that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment when he committed the crimes, and also instructing the jury as such. Because an employer can only be held accountable for negligent or criminal acts committed by an employee while in the scope of their employment, the appellate court found that the lower court’s decision likely played a significant role to convince the jury that the nursing home was liable for damages. The higher court also ruled that the issue of whether the employee was acting within the scope of his employment should not have been decided as a matter of law before trial, and instead should have been submitted to the jury as a question of fact. Because the issue wasn’t presented to the jury, the verdict was overturned and the case remanded for a new trial.