California Care Facility Liable for Sex Among Special Needs Children
In California, residential care facilities owe a duty of care to their residents. In some cases, that duty extends to when the residents are off of the facility’s campus, depending on the circumstances. In Doe v. FamiliesFirst Inc., Sacramento Superior Court, case number 34-2014-00172564, how that duty applies when residents wander off of campus and are harmed was demonstrated.
Factual background of the case
EMQ FamiliesFirst was a residential care facility that provided educational services, housing and mental health to children between the ages of six and 15. The plaintiff was a child who lived in the home and received services. He was sexually assaulted when he wandered away from the facility.
Seven days before the plaintiff’s sexual assault, a representative of the Department of Social Services visited the facility and spoke to the clinical director. The DSS worker told the director that the agency had received a complaint that the children were not being adequately supervised and that the facility was understaffed. The agency told the director that it was starting an investigation and that the director was to increase the staff-to-children ratios. Two days prior to the plaintiff’s assault, another child who was a resident at the home was raped when she wandered away and was unsupervised. She reported it to the clinician who she saw, and the clinician then passed the information on to the clinical director.
Just after 6 p.m. on the day of the plaintiff’s victimization, the Davis Police Department received a report that children were fighting in a park. The officer found 11 residents of the FamiliesFirst facility in the park unsupervised, including the 12-year-old plaintiff. When the officer called the facility, he was told that they did not have enough staff to send to retrieve the children. Later in the evening, the plaintiff was raped in a bathroom stall in the park. Following the boy’s rape, he never recovered and was unable to return home despite the fact that he had been scheduled to graduate from the program before his rape. The group home’s license and mental health certification were subsequently revoked.
The plaintiff argued that several children were raped when they were unsupervised and wandered away from the group home during a two-month period. He also alleged that the clinical director responded to being told about a different child being raped while off campus by saying that when the kids were tired of being raped, they would choose to return. The plaintiff also alleged that the facility did not notify his parents that he was unsupervised off-campus and that they would have come to Davis to get him if they had been told. According to the plaintiff, he was supposed to receive individual therapy at least once weekly and did not between Dec. 12, 2012, and April 3, 2013. He was also placed in the facility’s quiet room, which was its most restrictive environment. His plan said that he was not to be placed in the most restrictive environment.
The defendant contended that the facility met the standard of care required of residential care facilities. The defendant also argued that there was no causal link between the defendant’s actions and the sexual victimization of the plaintiff while he was off campus.
Prior to trial, the defendant made a §998 offer of $2,350,001, which the plaintiff did not accept. After a trial that lasted for 30 days, the jury deliberated for two before returning with a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The gross verdict award was $12,055,800. Of that amount, $3,305,800 was for the plaintiff’s economic damages and $1,250,000 in noneconomic damages. The jury also awarded $7.5 million in punitive damages.
Duty of care for residential facilities when residents are off campus
Residential care facilities owe a duty of care to keep their residents safe. When the residents are children, they are supposed to be adequately supervised and not allowed to wander away. The facilities also have duties under the regulations of Title 22 to keep adequate staff-to-child ratios. When a facility violates the duties that it owes, and the residents are harmed, the facility may be held to be liable in subsequent lawsuits. This is true even though the harmful incident happens at a location away from the facility like it did in this case.