A complaint filed last Friday alleges that a Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital nursing assistant sexually abused a disabled male patient and that hospital staff knew about the accusations but intentionally concealed the information from the patient and his conservator.
The lawsuit contends that Pedro Hernandez sexually abused a 69-year-old patient, identified as “Manuel T.,” more than once between 2012 and 2014. Manuel T. was receiving treatment for a 2011 stroke that paralyzed him and caused him to develop a brain injury. Though criminal charges for sexual battery were filed against Hernandez for his treatment of Manuel T. and another patient in July 2014, Manuel T.’s wife and conservator wasn’t informed of the criminal proceedings until many months later.
According to the civil complaint, the plaintiffs are suing Cottage Health System for negligence and fraud, given that Cottage didn’t fire Hernandez when allegations of sexual misconduct against him first surfaced in 2010. These early allegations resulted in Hernandez and the Cottage defendants becoming the subjects of a 2011 civil suit claiming inappropriate sexual behavior by Hernandez toward another male patient. (That 2011 case reportedly concluded in a confidential settlement.) The new suit also claims negligence for Cottage’s failure to inform Manuel T.’s family of possible wrongful conduct by Hernandez.
This lawsuit marks the third case of its kind against Cottage within the past two years. In 2013, two partially paralyzed female patients filed lawsuits against Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital accusing the hospital of ignoring their reports of sexual assault by nursing assistant Jose Carrillo. These cases are set to go to trial in September and October.
David Ring and Louanne Masry, of the Los Angeles-based firm Taylor and Ring, are representing the patients in their suit. Calling Cottage’s conduct “outrageous” and describing the alleged victim as “extremely vulnerable,” Masry said she found it “extremely shocking that [Cottage] would allow a patient like Manuel to be cared for by a man they knew had problems in the past.” Masry and Ring also represent the women in the other two pending cases.
Masry noted that the patients are seeking punitive damages — an amount to be determined at a later date during a jury trial — in addition to seeking general damages for “extreme and severe emotional distress” and compensation for attorney’s fees.
Last week, the criminal case against Hernandez for his treatment of Manuel resulted in Hernandez pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of battery; he was sentenced to three years of probation. As part of the plea agreement reached, Hernandez’s license as a certified nursing assistant was revoked by the California Department of Public Health, and he is prohibited from volunteering or working with patients in health care and with the elderly.
The Cottage defendants have not yet filed a response to the complaint, and a Cottage representative didn’t respond to a request for comment.
[UPDATE]: Cottage spokesperson Maria Zate issued the following statement this afternoon: “We are extremely saddened by these allegations. Our concern is for our patients and their families. The reported actions of this former employee go against the core values of Cottage and our employees. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our patients. We self-reported the incident to authorities, and an investigation was conducted with full cooperation of the hospital. “