Wyers v. American Medical Response Northwest Inc., is the consolidated appeal of six women – just a handful of the many reported victims – who sought recompense from an ambulance company that employed a paramedic who repeatedly sexually assaulted women he was transporting. Victims ranged in age from their teens up to their late 80s and most reported being in a vulnerable state, barely conscious or in shock as the paramedic assaulted them. Their complaints to the ambulance company were ignored, dismissed or “lost.”
Then, in 2007, defendant paramedic was transporting a female patient to the hospital when he reportedly placed his hand on hers and then shoved both their hands down inside the front of her pants. As soon as she arrived at the hospital, she began screaming and crying to hospital staff. Police responded to the scene and, in the course of their investigation, they learned the ambulance worker had an extensive history of complaints from female patients who had been transported by him. He was arrested – and later convicted – of first-degree sexual abuse of four women.
The publicity from the initial claim caused other women to come forward. That first victim and three others filed civil lawsuits against the transport company. Plaintiff in Herring v. American Medical Response Northwest prevailed (the verdict was affirmed on appeal), and the other former patients’ claims were then settled out-of-court. Preparation for these cases resulted in other victims being discovered. They asserted that their complaints were not taken seriously at the time. Six of those women filed their own personal injury lawsuits against defendant ambulance company.
And that brings us to the Wyers case.
One of the victims reported she was having difficulty breathing and defendant paramedic repeatedly put his hands on her bare chest. She didn’t report the incident to the ambulance company or anyone else. Another alleged he touched her bare chest as she went in and out of consciousness in the back of the ambulance. A 73-year-old reported she was sexually touched as well. So did a hearing impaired women. Those incidents all occurred within the span of eight weeks.
Two other plaintiffs – including an 86-year-old – alleged paramedic sexually touched them several months later.
In none of these cases did the women report those incidents to police or the ambulance company. However, there were numerous other cases in which incidents had been reported to the company. One involved a woman who said a company representative hung up on her. Another later learned that an “internal investigation” of an alleged sexual assault involved simply interviewing the paramedic himself, who denied any wrongdoing. No further action was taken. Yet another woman was told by a woman she “must be imagining things” when she reported the paramedic refused to leave the room while a nursing assistant helped her into a gown. This was despite the fact her complaint was later deemed “substantiated.”
The women filed a complaint in Oregon state court, alleging they were vulnerable persons and the ambulance company permitted another person to engage in physical abuse by knowingly acting or failing to act under circumstances in which a reasonable person would have known of the abuse, per ORS 124.100(5).
Ambulance company moved for summary judgment, arguing it did not actually know about the alleged abuse of plaintiffs, who never reported it themselves until after other allegations came to light. The trial court court agreed. But on appeal, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that finding. It wasn’t necessary under the statute, the justices ruled, that the ambulance company have actual knowledge of the individual abuse plaintiffs were suffering. The statute doesn’t require actual knowledge.
The state high court did acknowledge an “awkwardly phrased bit of drafting, to say the least” in the statute. The court even stated the parties’ difficulty in reconciling the meaning was understandable. However, in its interpretation, the term “knowingly permit” does not necessarily mean a defendant must have actual knowledge of abuse. Rather, it refers to constructive awarness of a particular fact that might indicate abuse, as opposed to awareness of defendant’s specific conduct.
Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawsuits may proceed.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Wyers v. American Medical Response Northwest Inc., Aug. 11, 2016, Oregon Supreme Court
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Edwards v. Hy-Vee, Inc. – Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Tossed, Aug. 1, 2016, Asheville Personal Injury Attorney Blog