Claim arising out of rape in psychiatric award is upheld on appeal; recipient rights "decision" was not trustworthy or admissible
Mary Sloan was involuntarily admitted to Chelsea Community Hospital after a suicide attempt. During her stay, a male patient entered her room and raped her. The male patient had earlier been escorted from her room by staff after he entered uninvited. Sloan sued the Hospital, arguing that it had improperly failed to protect her from the potential rapist. She presented the testimony of two psychiatric nurses with a combined 50+ years of experience: they testified that the nursing staff of a psychiatric unit owes a duty to vigilantly protect patients from this type of assault and that Chelsea's staff had violated the standard of care. The jury awarded Sloan $100,000.00 in non-economic damages and $50,000.00 in economic damages. Chelsea appealed.
Chelsea argued that Sloan had not met her burden of proving negligence because her experts had suggested that when an event of this type occurs, the Hospital is always responsible and negligent. The Court rejected this argument, finding it a question of fact, properly resolved by the jury, with regard to the staff's negligence.
The Hospital also argued that it owed no duty to protect Sloan from the criminal behavior of a third person. The appellate judges noted that an exception to this rule applies when a "special relationship" exists between the victim and a defendant. Given this exception and the hospital's failure to properly raise this issue on appeal, the Court did not grant the hospital relief.
A Community Mental Health Recipient Rights decision, upheld on administrative appeal, concluded that the incident did not arise out of neglect. The Hospital argued that this administrative "decision" should have precluded Sloan from suing and that it constituted a binding judgment of lack of fault by Chelsea. The Court noted that this report by the CMH recipient rights officer was not adversarial or judicial in nature, and therefore not the type of decision that would preclude Sloan from her "day in court."
The appellate judges also noted that the Report, itself, lacked the type of trustworthiness that would allow it to be admitted for the jury's consideration. The Michigan Supreme Court has previously held that reports generated under circumstances of "highly probably civil and criminal litigation" lack the trustworthiness required for admissibility under the Michigan Rules of Evidence and hearsay.