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Texas Appeals Court Finds Statute Only Imposes Liability On Employer For Sexual Abuse Of Patient When Employer Has Knowledge Of Past Abuse Of That Same Patient

 
 

Texas Appeals Court Finds Statute Only Imposes Liability On Employer For Sexual Abuse Of Patient When Employer Has Knowledge Of Past Abuse Of That Same Patient

A Texas appeals court found that a state mental health statute only imposes liability on an employer for failure to take necessary action to prevent or stop sexual exploitation of a patient when the employer knew or had reason to know of the sexual exploitation of that same patient by its employee. Thus, the appeals court found no liability under the statute when the employer knew of previous sexual abuse with a different patient.

On October 11, 1999, N.P. was admitted as a patient in the psychiatric unit at Methodist Hospital where Mark Kennerson was employed as a psychiatric technician. Another patient had alleged earlier that she had consensual sex with Kennerson while in a �manic state.�

Methodist undertook an investigation as a result of that allegation, including interviewing Kennerson who denied involvement. No restrictions were placed on Kennerson�s job duties or his access to female patients and on October 22, 1999, Kennerson was assigned to monitor N.P. for suicide watch. N.P alleged that Kennerson engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with her that evening. Methodist again investigated and ultimately fired Kennerson.

N.P. filed suit on October 22, 2002 alleging that under � 81.003(a) of the Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Methodist was liable for damages caused by its failure to take necessary action to prevent or stop the sexual exploitation of her by its employee and asserting common law causes of action.

The trial court granted partial summary judgment to Methodist on the common law claims, finding N.P.�s suit time barred by the two-year statute of limitations on such claims. The trial court also granted summary judgment to Methodist on N.P.�s � 81.003 claims, finding the statute inapplicable. N.P. appealed that ruling.

The Texas Court of Appeals, First District, affirmed. Methodist argued that � 81.003 only imposes liability on a mental health service provider employer when the mental health services provider�s sexual exploitation of the patient bringing suit continues after the employer knew or reasonably should have known of the sexual exploitation of the same patient.

The appeals court, on an issue of first impression, found the statute unambiguously refers to one patient only. In other words, there is no liability where the employer knew of sexual abuse of a different patient and there was no ongoing abuse of one single patient, the appeals court said. According to the appeals court, �the Legislature specifically created a cause of action for one patient who is a victim of a pattern, practice or scheme of conduct constituting sexual exploitation.�

The appeals court next addressed N.P.�s argument that Methodist was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. However, the appeals court found that the statute �does not encompass vicarious liability beyond any expressly created� in the text.

The appeals court thus affirmed the trial court�s grant of summary judgment to Methodist.

N.P. v. The Methodist Hospital and The Methodist Health Care System, NO. 01-04-00213-CV (Tex. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2006).

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