On December 19, 2013, after 7 days of trial and 2 full days of deliberations, a twelve person Hillsborough County Superior Court jury sitting in Manchester, New Hampshire returned a verdict in favor of a former Bedford man who was raped while a patient in the adolescent mental health unit at the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, NH in March of 2007. Cheshire Medical Center is affiliated with the Dartmouth Hitchcock Health System. The victim was represented by Attorney Peter E. Hutchins of Manchester, NH. The hospital was represented by the Sulloway & Hollis lawfirm of Concord, NH. The victim of the assault was 15 years old at the time, and was raped by his roommate on the last night of his 5 day inpatient admission at the hospital. The perpetrator, who had a history of violence, suicide attempts, sexually inappropriate conduct and who admitted to having been a sexual abuser, had just been admitted to the hospital that day. The perpetrator was 17 years old, and outweighed the plaintiff by 70 pounds. The plaintiff, now 21 years old, alleged that the hospital and its staff was negligent in placing the dangerous new patient in his room that night without performing additional fact finding on the perpetrator and his history of violent and sexually inappropriate conduct. The perpetrator had received psychotherapy previously, but the hospital failed to obtain those records or determine the nature and extent of that therapy. The perpetrator was also on probation at the time of his admission for attacking his father with both a car and a maul (ax / sledgehammer type tool). The plaintiff also alleged that the hospital violated the New Hampshire Patient’s Bill of Rights, RSA 151:21, by failing to keep him free from “physical and sexual abuse.” The hospital’s primary defense at trial was that the rape did not occur, and that the victim was lying. The hospital further claimed it was not negligent, and that it was reasonable medical practice to have placed the perpetrator in the victim’s room that night. The jury found that the assault did take place, and further found that the hospital was both negligent and had violated the patient’s statutory rights. At trial, the victim plaintiff asked the jury for “closure and validation.” Medical professionals testified that the victim had suffered from PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks and increased anxiety as a result of the attack. The victim disclosed the rape 5 months after the assault to a social worker / psychologist when he was brought back to the Cheshire Medcial Center emergency room by his mother for increasing rage and acting out. The victim testified he never planned to disclose the assault to anyone ever, however feared being readmitted to the mental health unit again due to what had occurred to him months before. The jury awarded the plaintiff $250,000.00 in compensatory damages. It is the hope of the plaintiff that the hospital and Dartmouth Hitchcock will abide by the verdict of the jury and promptly pay the judgment so that he can close this chapter of his life and move forward. The hospital, under New Hampshire law, has a right to appeal the verdict to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, however only on alleged errors in legal rulings made by the trial judge during the trial. Attorney Hutchins has represented over 200 victims of sexual abuse in claims and cases against institutional defendants in the last 10 years. The Sulloway firm is highly experienced in the defense of hospitals and doctors in medical malpractice cases. Attorney Hutchins was assisted by Attorney Donna-Marie Cote of Manchester during the trial. Three nurses testified during the trial, as did Dr. Joseph Bergman, head of the mental health department at Cheshire Medical Center. Each side produced testimony from two expert witnesses. The plaintiff along with his parents testified, as did the plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist from the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester. The perpetrator did not testify at the trial.
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