$7.5 million verdict awarded in Pennsylvania nursing home assault case
On May 4, 2018, a Lancaster County jury awarded $7.5 million for compensatory damages to the family of an 86-year-old nursing home resident who was sexually assaulted by another resident at the nursing home.
Dorothy L. Brace was a resident of Maple Farm Nursing Center, which is owned by Defendant Garden Spot Village and located at 604 Oak Street in Akron, Pa. She suffered from dementia and by 2010, her mental condition deteriorated to the point she was deemed unable to consent to romantic or sexual relationships. She relied on the nursing home staff for her daily care and protection.
Defendant Glenn A. Hershey was already a resident at the nursing home when Garden Spot Village purchased Maple Farm in 2009. However, Maple Farm was aware that he was a Megan’s Law offender based on an offense he committed in 1994 that required him to register as a sex offender for life. The nursing home Defendants failed to take efforts to ensure the staff, the residents, or the residents’ responsible parties were aware of Glenn Hershey’s history, and defended this position saying no law in Pennsylvania required them to do so.
Nursing home delayed in responding, covered up evidence
At trial, Maple Farms and Garden Spot claimed that Defendant Hershey’s January 20, 2013, assault on Dorothy was unforeseeable. However, the department heads at Maple Farm had identified Defendant Hershey as a risk to Dorothy because of her dementia almost three years prior. In February of 2010, with the help of the Lancaster County Office of Aging (OOA), the Defendants initiated a care plan to protect Ms. Brace from sexual abuse. The plan required that Glenn Hershey should have limited contact with her and not be permitted to be alone with her.
Despite this plan, Dorothy's family uncovered and presented at trial, evidence to show that over the next three years, Glenn Hershey repeatedly violated or attempted to violate the care plan. The family also presented evidence of Glenn Hershey’s sexually inappropriate behaviors toward other residents and staff, and that the Nursing Home Defendants were aware of his behaviors but chose to trivialize them. The family presented expert testimony that his behaviors were red flags, and the Nursing Home Defendants failure to appropriately respond to these red flags endangered other residents and staff. Furthermore, the Nursing Home Defendants’ consciously disregarded the known risk by moving Dorothy Brace one door away from Defendant Hershey. Soon after the room change, a nurse aide saw Glenn Hershey leaving Dorothy’s room in the middle of the night.
The Nursing Home Defendants delayed more than eight hours in calling the police while they conducted their own internal investigation. Before the police arrived, the Nursing Home Defendants also covered up evidence, including cleaning Ms. Brace before she underwent a rape kit exam and washing her clothing and sheets. In addition, the Director of Nursing instructed staff to change their witness statements regarding bruising they observed the night of the assault so as not to raise “red flags.” Fortunately, Glenn Hershey confessed to the police. In 2014, he was convicted of Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse and is serving eight to 20 years in prison for his crime.
Victim's suffering was ignored
Dorothy Brace suffered from severe anxiety, fear and mental anguish after the sexual assault that was compounded by her dementia. Certified nursing aides testified about their concerns for Dorothy and the department heads’ failure to address her suffering. One of her caregivers sent an anonymous letter to the CEO of Garden Spot Village in an attempt to get help, but their pleas fell upon deaf ears. This letter was produced at trial.
In the trial against the nursing home, the jury found the facility was reckless and failed to protect Ms. Brace. The $7.5 million award was for Dorothy Brace’s pain and suffering. Significantly, the jury only allocated 15 percent of the fault to Defendant Hershey, and held the nursing home and its parent company accountable for 85 percent of the fault. Before the punitive damages phase of the trial could begin, the parties settled the matter for $6,750,000.
Dorothy Brace was a widow with no children. Her cousins brought the lawsuit on her behalf. The case, Vicki L. McLaughlin and Carol L. MacConnell, co-administratrices for the Estate of Dorothy L. Brace v. Garden Spot Village, Garden Spot Village of Akron d/b/a Maple Farm Nursing Center, and Glenn Hershey, was filed in Lancaster County in March 2014. Wilkes & McHugh attorneys Matthew T. Stone and Lorraine H. Donnelly represented the family at trial.