Emanuel Di Teresi and Virginia Di Teresi, Executors of the Will of Santini Di Teresi and Virginia Di Teresi, individually v. Stamford Health System, Inc. and The Stamford Hospital: A jury has decided that Stamford Hospital was not negligent in its supervision of a nurse who sexually abused an elderly patient with dementia.
On March 9, 2004, Santini Di Teresi was admitted to Stamford Hospital and treated for pneumonia and diabetes. She was 94 years old and also suffered from dementia.
Two weeks later, Robert Mayes, a 36-year-old certified nursing assistant, was assigned to Di Teresi’s floor for the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. He was assigned to help Latrina Futrell, a registered nurse employed by the hospital.
Futrell told Mayes to report back to her when he was ready to change and bathe Di Teresi, because, the nurse said, he would need her help. Around 10:30 a.m. that morning, Futrell smelled feces and thought it might be coming from Di Teresi’s room. When she walked in, she observed Mayes trying to sexually assault the woman.
Futrell reported the incident to her superiors. Mayes, meanwhile, threw all of the bed linens down a chute in an effort to dispose of them. Tests using a rape kit came up inconclusive.
Mayes, however, was arrested a couple days later for attempt to commit first-degree sexual assault on a mentally incapacitated person. He later pleaded no contest and was sentenced to five years in prison and 10 years of probation. He’s now registered with the state as a sex offender.
Santini Di Teresi’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Stamford Hospital. The elderly woman passed away prior to the lawsuit’s resolution, but her daughter, Virginia, pursued the claim on her mother’s behalf. The plaintiffs charged Stamford Hospital with negligent supervision, medical malpractice, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and recklessness.
Di Teresi’s lawyers, Richard Lewis and Christine D. Salmon, of Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky, of Stamford, allege that the hospital should have had policies in place to prohibit a male certified nursing assistant from bathing and dressing a female patient outside the presence of another hospital employee.
Also, they argue that the hospital should have known Mayes had a propensity for such behavior.
The lawsuit claims the hospital waited seven hours before notifying Di Teresi’s doctor of the assault. It also claims the hospital waited 10 hours before notifying the Stamford Police Department.
"The conduct, actions and inactions of the hospital was initially to cover up the sexual assault by its employee Robert Mayes in order to attempt to preserve the defendant’s business reputation, avoid liability and was intended to take advantage of Santina Di Teresi’s mental condition and her inability to effectively communicate that she had been sexually assaulted on the defendant’s premises," the plaintiffs lawyers wrote in the complaint.
The complaint further alleged that the elder Di Teresi suffered "severe emotional and psychological distress, emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish and diminution of the enjoyment of her life."
The initial lawsuit claimed that the daughter, Virginia Di Teresi, suffered emotional distress as a result of the incident, but those claims were dismissed prior to trial, according to the lawyer representing Stamford Hospital, Eric J. Stockman, of Neubert, Pepe & Monteith in New Haven.
Mayes, the nursing assistant, was originally named in the lawsuit but failed to appear in court. The plaintiffs later dropped him as a defendant.
The trial began late last month, and continued on into early February. Stamford Superior Court Judge Frank H. D’Andrea Jr. presided.
Virginia Di Teresi testified for the plaintiffs, as did three experts. Defense attorney Stockman said the plaintiffs had a nursing expert from Maine testify about violations of the standard of care by the hospital. They presented a physician, who was a former hospital administrator, to testify about proper procedures for responding to in-hospital assaults. Another nursing expert testified about causation and damages.
Stockman said the plaintiffs asked the jury for between $4 million and $5 million.
The defense, meanwhile, brought forth none of its own expert witnesses. Instead, Stockman chose to simply cross-examine the plaintiffs’ experts.
"The jury didn’t buy the argument that somehow [the hospital was] on notice that if we didn’t monitor Robert Mayes on an hourly basis, he was likely to do something like this," said Stockman. "I got his experts to admit criminal behavior is unpredictable, that the hospital had no reason to know he was a sexual predator and that this act literally could’ve taken a minute. He could’ve snuck it in at any point in time even if he was being monitored on an hourly basis."
Stockman explained that the certified nursing assistants, who receive their certification from the state, perform tasks that help the nurses, like bathing and feeding patients, and taking care of their non-medical needs. "A certain amount of trust has to be placed in these people," said Stockman. "The nurses are expected from time to time to check in on them."
Stockman also defended the case by simply reading Di Teresi’s physician’s notes regarding the incident. The doctor said there was no change in Di Teresi’s behavior after the incident. "Either she didn’t understand when it was happening anything had [happened], or even if she had, she didn’t retain it and suffered no emotional distress," Stockman said.
The three-week trial took place after a month of jury selection. Jurors deliberated for one day and then decided in favor of the defense.
"Obviously we are disappointed but it was a tough case," said Lewis, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer. Lewis said they were "still evaluating" whether there was anything to appeal and declined to discuss the case further.
"I think the plaintiff’s counsel did a really good job at trial," said Stockman. "Their experts didn’t perform very well and the no notice of any deviant predilection [by Mayes] — I think those two things did them in."•