A hospital in Colorado is a named defendant in a case stemming from the actions of a nurse formerly in its employ who allegedly perpetrated sexual assaults on female patients while they were unconscious or incapacitated.[i] The police have arrested the alleged perpetrator, who they say would record himself sexually abusing female patients while they were unconscious or incapacitated.[ii] He now faces criminal charges that carry a potential indeterminate life sentence for each named victim, meaning he could potentially serve up to four life sentences if the presiding judge imposes a sentence to the Department of Corrections.[iii]
Prosecutors have indicated the evidence against him is voluminous, consisting of multiple terabytes of data in the form of cellphone videos and photos.[iv] The arrest warrant states in one video, the nurse can be heard whispering to the camera, “This is your Dexter collection,” apparently referencing the television show about a serial killer who collects blood samples as trophies from his victims.[v]
While the nurse’s case winds its way through the criminal justice system, his former employer is in hot water of a different kind, as two female patients who allege he victimized them while they were unconscious have recently filed a lawsuit against St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, and its managing company, Intermountain Healthcare.[vi] The plaintiffs have filed the lawsuit as a putative class action, and allege the nurse “..drugged, sexually touched, sexually penetrated, and/or took lewd photos and/or videos for sexual gratification of hundreds, if not thousands” of patients.[vii]
The plaintiffs argue the hospital and Intermountain knew or should have known about the misdeeds of the nurse, asserting he “…possessed and administered an unusually high volume of medications to patients”[viii] and engaged in this conduct in front of hospital surveillance cameras.[ix] In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel has also stated that the hospital “…had been on notice of the risk of patients being sexually assaulted,” as a visitor to the hospital was previously prosecuted for similar conduct occurring in the hospital’s emergency room.[x]
In a clear indication plaintiff’s counsel intends to employ the Reptile Theory[xi] to evoke anger, outrage, and fear in the minds of the jury, he also commented the lawsuit “is about public safety and about hospitals ensuring that their patients are not only safe but treated with dignity and respect.”[xii] The Reptile Theory aims to engender anger toward the defendant on the part of jurors’ in the hopes that the reptilian brain will be activated to destroy a perceived threat (namely, the defendant).
So how may one successfully defend St. Mary’s Hospital and Intermountain Healthcare in this lawsuit and defuse anger? Apply the Tyson & Mendes Nuclear Verdicts® defense methods (accept responsibility, personalize the corporate defendant, give a number, and argue pain and suffering)[xiii]!
Accept Responsibility and Personalize the Corporate Defendant
In every case, but especially those involving sensational facts, it is critical to accept responsibility for something to defuse juror anger and to show the jury the defendant has acted reasonably.[xiv] Doing so does not mean accepting liability, however, and is necessary for the defendant in this case to address the explosive claims asserted by plaintiffs and the likely juror anger that will be left in their wake.
For example, the defendants may present staff witnesses who may testify about all the ways they demonstrate a commitment to public safety and to treating patients with dignity and respect; the defendants may accept responsibility for taking all reasonable steps to hire, train, and retain individuals who share this commitment. Witnesses should testify about all their training on respecting patient rights and demonstrate the active steps the defendants take to ensure these rights are respected. Presenting such testimony also allows the defendants to use another method: personalize the corporate defendant.
Providing this testimony along with that of a corporate representative who embodies the themes of reasonableness, common sense, and responsibility will give a face to the defendants and defuse the anger generated by the common Reptile Theory tactic to paint the corporate defendants as faceless and uncaring profit-generating machines.
Along with reasonableness and responsibility, a core theme of all four Tyson & Mendes Nuclear Verdicts® defense methods is common sense. To appeal to jurors’ common sense and reasonableness, the defendant itself must act reasonably and with common sense. For example, one of the plaintiffs in this case has said while she has not received an apology from the defendant hospital, she has continued to receive bills, emails, and texts for an outstanding $905 medical bill from the stay giving rise to her claims.
Such debt collection efforts will undoubtedly be presented by plaintiffs as evidence the defendants care more about profits than they do about people. Plaintiffs will argue even in the face of the perpetrator’s sexual abuse, the defendants are trying to recover profits from the victims. A minor debt could carry tremendous weight with an angry jury.
However, if it appears likely through mock juries or focus groups the jury will find the abuse occurred, defendants could defuse that anger in advance by canceling the plaintiff’s medical debt or including it in the number they give to the jury in trial. Such a gesture will resonate with a jury and demonstrate St. Mary’s Hospital acknowledges the injuries the plaintiff has sustained and wants to remove any distress she may feel by having to repay the debt.
It should be noted where there exists a tandem criminal case as is here, defendants are wise to pay close attention not only to the outcome for their former employee, but to any testimony or evidence produced at hearings such as the preliminary hearing, motions hearings, and trial. Doing so will equip the defendants with certain intangible things that do not come through in interrogatory responses (such as witness demeanor and likeability), and will allow the defense to prepare a strategy to defuse juror anger. Doing so is both critical and possible, using the techniques discussed above. Even in the face of potentially egregious facts and the Reptile on the loose, it is possible to achieve justice for all using the Tyson & Mendes Nuclear Verdicts® defense methods.
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[i] See complaint in M.C. et al., v. St. Mary’s Hospital & Medical Center, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit corporation, et al. (Dec. 20, 2022, Case No. 2022CV30483)
[iii] C.R.S. 18-1.3-1004
[vi] See complaint in M.C. et al., v. St. Mary’s Hospital & Medical Center, Inc., a Colorado nonprofit corporation, et al. (Dec. 20, 2022, Case No. 2022CV30483)
[xi] D. Ball, Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution (2009)
[xii] (Colleen Slevin, Women Sexually Abused by ICU Nurse Sue Colorado Hospital (Dec. 20, 2022) Insurance Journal [https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2022/12/22/700527.htm])
[xiii] R. Tyson, Nuclear Verdicts®: Defending Justice For All (2020)