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Despite Drug Treatment Center’s Hiring of Employee with Multiple Criminal Convictions, New York Appellate Division Finds Summary Judgement in Negligence Case Was Appropriate

There are a seemingly endless variety of ways in which a medical provider’s neglect and lack of concern for patient safety can lead to a Syracuse medical negligence case. In addition to cases involving a doctor’s failure to diagnose a serious illness within a reasonable amount of time or a surgeon’s neglect to obtain informed consent before performing a risky medical procedure, there are many other situations in which a patient can be hurt by an act of negligence committed by a hospital, doctor, or other healthcare worker.

Of course, results are seldom guaranteed in the medical field, and opinions can vary about what was, and what was not, negligence. Sometimes, it is up to the jury to makes these decisions, but courts can enter summary judgment on the issue in certain circumstances.

Because summary judgment effectively ends the plaintiff’s case, at least as to some claims, and/or some defendants, a court’s ruling on this matter is reviewable on appeal. The burden on appeal rests on the party seeking to disturb the lower court’s ruling; if the appellate tribunal is not convinced that a mistake was made, the trial court’s opinion will likely stand.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that, while she was in an outpatient program at the defendant drug rehabilitation center in 2015, the defendant employee falsified toxicology results so that the plaintiff could continue to use certain controlled substances while undergoing treatment at the center. She further alleged that the employee had sexually assaulted her and forced her to be the victim of rape by multiple offenders in order to obtain drugs. The plaintiff eventually disclosed to the center that the employee had falsified her records, and the employee was fired.

The plaintiff filed suit against the center and the employee, asserting multiple claims against them. This included negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; negligent infliction of emotional distress; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and punitive damages. The defendant center filed a motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Bronx County granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s case against the center. The plaintiff appealed.

Resolution of the Issues on Appeal

The New York Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The reviewing court noted that the defendant center was aware that the defendant employee had been convicted of trespassing and multiple counts of drug-related offenses prior to hiring her but that the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services had determined that the center could hire her (although it did not render an opinion as to whether the center should hire her). In terms of her performance at work, the defendant employee had “nodded out” during a staff meeting and had missed work. Other urine samples had also gone missing at the center, but the defendant employee was not suspected of being the culprit at that time.

Under these circumstances, the reviewing court agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff had not raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding her negligent hiring, supervision, and retention claims. In the court’s view, neither the employee’s prior criminal history nor her work performance were sufficient to put the defendant center on actual or constructive notice that the employee had the propensity to commit sexual assault.

As to the plaintiff’s remaining claims, the appellate division was of the opinion that these claims were also properly dismissed.

Discuss Your Legal Options With a Medical Negligence Attorney

Claims against doctors and medical facilities are often met with great resistance. It is important to have an assertive, knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney alongside you as you fight for what is right after an act of negligence committed by a healthcare provider. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP we handle many types of cases involving misconduct and neglect by so-called medical professionals. For an appointment to learn more about our services, call us now at 315-479-9000.

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