In its opinion filed on April 14, 2017, the Supreme Court of Iowa (“the Court”) held that the State of Iowa did not owe a duty of care to either the defendant nursing home or its 95-year-old nursing home resident who was sexually assaulted by a co-resident who was a sex offender with a diagnosis of pedophilia (with a long history of violent sexual offenses against children) and dementia because courts (and not the State) made the ultimate decision to release the sex offender from custody and to civilly commit him to the defendant nursing home.
The elderly resident filed a nursing home negligence case against the defendant nursing home for providing her care in a reckless and negligent manner. After the resident’s death, her estate substituted itself as the plaintiff. The estate also sued the State of Iowa for negligence, alleging that the State was negligent because (1) it had a duty to prepare and approve a safety plan to protect the residents of the defendant nursing home after the sexual offender was placed there and (2) it had a duty to inspect and determine whether or not appropriate safety precautions were being followed by the defendant nursing home.
The defendant nursing home filed a cross-claim against the State for contribution and indemnity, alleging that the State was negligent because (1) it failed to properly supervise and monitor the co-resident (the sex offender) pursuant to Court Order and Iowa Code chapter 229; (2) it represented to the defendant nursing home prior to admission that the co-resident was no longer a risk or a threat to society; and, (3) it represented to the defendant nursing home prior to admission that the co-resident was no longer a risk or threat to elderly victims.
The State moved for summary judgment, arguing that once it discharged the co-resident from its custody, it owed no duty of care to supervise and monitor the co-resident, no duty to create or supervise any safety plan related to the co-resident, and no duty to inspect the defendant nursing home and follow-up with regard to safety precautions. The State also alleged that Iowa Code section 669.14(4) prohibits the defendant nursing home from suing the State based on the State’s alleged misrepresentations concerning the co-resident’s risk to other residents in the nursing home.
The trial court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment.
The Court’s Opinion
The Court stated that the State did not make the decision to release the co-resident from custody or commit him to the defendant nursing home – the district court entered an order discharging the co-resident from custody pursuant to Iowa Code section 229A.10, and another district court held a hearing and committed the co-resident to the defendant nursing home under Iowa Code section 229.13.
The Court held that a special relationship did not exist between the State and the co-resident when the courts discharged him from custody and committed him to the defendant nursing home: “[t]he courts made the decision to discharge [the co-resident], not the State … Thus, the district court was correct in finding no duty; therefore, no genuine issue of material fact exists on this issue.”
Nonetheless, the estate is not left without a remedy. As the concurring opinion states, “[t]he plaintiffs will get their day in court on their tort claims against the nursing home operator, Pomeroy Development, Inc., which chose to accept a known sex offender as an in-patient resident and allegedly failed to properly monitor him to protect its vulnerable, elderly residents, including Mercedes Gottschalk.”
Source Estate of Mercedes Gottschalk v. Pomeroy Development, Inc.; Pomeroy Development, Inc. v. State of Iowa, No. 14–1326.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Iowa or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home sexual assault, or nursing home abuse, you should promptly contact a local nursing home claim lawyer in your U.S. state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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