TIM DOE #1 et al. v. SAINT FRANCIS HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CENTER, SC 18912
Judicial District of Waterbury
Torts; Negligence; Whether Trial Court Improperly Failed to Instruct Jury on "Notice of Propensity" Standard for Determining Whether Hospital was Liable for Criminal Acts of Employee; Whether Trial Court Improperly Failed to Instruct Jury on Legal Significance of Hospital's Bylaws; Whether Jury Instruction on Breach of Special Duty of Care Based on Custodial Relationship was Proper. The plaintiff brought this action against the defendant hospital alleging that he was sexually abused by a former employee of the hospital, Dr. George Reardon, when he participated in Reardon's human growth study as a child. The plaintiff sought to hold the hospital liable on a theory of negligent supervision based on his claim that the hospital violated its own bylaws by allowing Reardon to conduct the growth study without first obtaining the hospital's approval of his research protocol and guidelines. The plaintiff also sought to recover on a theory that the hospital breached a special duty of care owed to children entrusted to the hospital's custody. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $2.7 million. On appeal, the hospital claims error with respect to several aspects of the trial court's jury instructions. The hospital first contends that the court improperly instructed the jury that it could find the hospital liable for Reardon's conduct only if, at the time of the conduct, the hospital knew or should have known that harm of the same general nature as that which occurred was likely to result. The hospital argues that, instead, the court should have instructed the jury that it could find the hospital liable only if it knew or should have known of Reardon's propensity for sexual abuse. The hospital claims that the error was harmful because there was no evidence presented at trial to satisfy the "notice of propensity" standard. The hospital next claims that the court improperly failed to instruct the jury on the legal significance of the hospital's bylaws. The hospital claims that the jury should have been instructed that, while violation of the bylaws may be viewed as evidence of negligence, the bylaws do not by themselves establish the standard of care. Additionally, in connection with the allegation that it breached a special duty of care, the hospital argues that the court improperly instructed the jury to determine whether Reardon voluntarily took custody of, and assumed responsibility for, the plaintiff's health and welfare. The hospital claims that the fact that Reardon may have taken custody of the plaintiff is not enough to establish that the hospital assumed a custodial duty and that the instruction allowed the jury to impute Reardon's conduct to the hospital. Finally, the hospital argues that the trial court's instructions invited the jury to decide the custody issue based on facts—including the testimony of nonparty witnesses who claimed to have been abused by Reardon and the plaintiff's status as a child of "tender years"—that it claims were unrelated to the question of whether the hospital voluntarily assumed custody of the plaintiff.